Sunday, June 09, 2013

"God has no hands but ours" Sermon for Sunday, June 9th, 2013

The following is the sermon I preached at Epiphany Episcopal Church in Plymouth on Sunday June 9th, 2013.

___________________
Proper 5C June 9 2013

Graduations are happening all around us, friends, neighbors, all sorts of graduations, kids are going from elementary school to junior high school, from junior high school to senior high school, senior high school to college, from college into the world of work, or graduate school. All around us as spring comes to a close and summer takes hold, new chapters are beginning and lives are being transformed by joy and anticipation.

Samuel Davies, long ago president of the College of New Jersey, today known as Princeton University, in one of his commencement addresses said, “There is a kind of death which we all expect to feel that carries terror in the very sound, and all its circumstances are shocking to nature. The ghastly countenance, the convulsive agonies, the expiring groan, the coffin, the grace, the devouring work, the stupor, the insensibility, the universal inactivity, these strike a damp to the spirit, and we turn pale at the thought. With such objects as these in view, courage fails, levity looks serious, presumption is dashed, the cheerful passions sink and all is solemn, all is melancholy.” That is a dark way to begin a sermon at a joyful commencement exercise.

But even in the midst of life, even as it seems so abundant in the lush green of the plants, the deep blue of the waters of our many lakes, even in the midst of life, death is always near. Death’s uncertainty, its randomness, its unexpectedness does nothing to make us feel better about the life we live. If anything, it makes us more filled with anxiety, bringing the reality of our mortality into stark contrast.

Because we often understand life to be short and fleeting we have developed a whole cottage industry around living a full life, how to books abound about how to suck the marrow out of life. We are told to live life to the fullest, to eat dessert first and to do those things that make us happy. If death decides one day to walk into our lives, it simply does, death is scary, it is sad, and it can be completely immobilizing.

Todays Gospel captures death at its most harsh, it most vicious, its most unexpected. Imagine the woman from today’s Gospel walking alongside her dead son, this widow, who had already lost her husband and was knit into the society, the culture by one single strand of life: her son. Imagine, this widow walking alongside the only person left who would take care of her as she waited for her own death to come. Watching as the strand that so tentatively tied her to the people and society she knew well came untied, allowing her to fall into darkness beyond mere death, to the margins of society where she would be ridiculed, exiled as condemned by God.

She in the moments of her son’s death has become an outcast, someone less than human. People would have seen her position as a widow as God’s judgment and would have cut ties ending any relationship they might have had. The last thing the widow would have expected was any expression of compassion. And so, Jesus saw the widow, had compassion, reached out and healed her only son. In this act of compassion, Jesus tied her back to the community and gave her new life.

I often wish that Jesus would show up among us, to each of us who are experiencing illness, to each of us experiencing death and say to us, “Rise” so that we may be made to live again. It is hard to watch so many people in our lives struggle with cancer, with illnesses, with job and vocation insecurity, divorce.

I was recently asked if God gives you only that which you can handle. I answered that I do not believe God doles out punishment; God does not test us or try to make us stronger by bringing great challenges into our lives. But what I do believe is that God is with us. God is present in those moments of despair, of hopelessness; God is there when we think God is nowhere to be seen.

It is in those challenging, dark moments that I understand with greatest clarity what Theresa of Avila meant when she said, “God has no hands but ours.” For it is in those moments of challenge, of hopelessness that the hands of those who love me, hold me up, lift me up, care for me bring the strength I need to stand in the face of challenge, and help me to see that God is near, that God has visited all of us.

God has visited God’s people the Gospel says was the people’s response to their witnessing of the young mans resuscitation. God has come among us; God has blessed all of us by God’s visit and this compassionate act of Jesus. In that moment, for many people, God’s presence was profoundly felt and understood. Death transformed into life, hopelessness transformed into truth. Fear was replaced with joy and singing. Their spirits were awakened, seized by God and made to be on fire.

Some of us need to be healed, and as long as we do not keep our wounds to ourselves, there are people who can heal us. Some of us need to be loved, and as long as we do not hide our loneliness, there are people here who can love us. Some of us are spiritually dead, and if we do not hide our fear or shame, there are people who can seize our souls and breathe life back into us. We are not on the earth to be alone; we are here to be in community, to live and love not as individuals but as people belonging to the one, holy and living God.


In our DNA, our Christian DNA we find a history of healing, a history of loving, compassionate acts that show forth the grace of God in the world. Jesus commanded his disciples to go to all the towns he would come to and once there, heal their sick and proclaim to all the good news of the Kingdom of God. God has looked favorably on God’s people, the Gospel declares, we have been seized and filled with the spirit to bring alive what was once dead, to make new what has been old, to be filled fully with the grace God has given us.
This sermon was preached on June 2nd at Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior. 

___________________
Proper 4C, June 2 2013

The Voice is a reality television singing competition; the concept of the show is to find new singing talent contested by aspiring singers. The contestants are voted into each round by the American public, well, those who watch the show. The series has a panel of judges who critique the contestant’s performances. Judges also serve as a coach, guiding their teams through the season. The judges compete to ensure that their act wins the competition, making them the winning coach.

Adam Levine, the Maroon 5 lead singer, and a long-standing coach on the show, was caught in a surprising moment this week. How many of you heard him say, “I hate this country.” Of course Twitter blew up, literally, calling him unpatriotic, and a bad person and I am sure a number of other things I can’t say in this sermon.

I am not willing to go there, I think he was expressing his frustration at losing two of his favorite singers, he was deeply disappointed because he invests himself greatly into the people he chooses to coach. It can be easy to feel disappointed, especially when results are out of your hands, when your success depends on other people. It was unfortunate how Levine expressed his disappointment, but I think Adam Levine is probably a wonderfully patriotic and passionate American. He was born in LA after all.

The interesting thing, and it may only be interesting to me, is that none of you here today jumped on Twitter and started raging about how unpatriotic Jesus is. Of course Devon probably would have put you in a corner or something worse if she caught you tweeting during Church, but most likely, none of you will take to Twitter to talk about how Jesus was quite similarly disparaging his own people. “I tell you this,” Jesus says in todays Gospel, “not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

Now, I wish I could paint a picture of Jesus saying these words in the same way Adam Levine did. One of the Disciples, hanging around Jesus, heard Jesus mutter under his breath, “These darn Israelites are so faithless, if only they could be more like the Centurion.” I imagine the disciple turning around and whistling as if he hadn’t heard anything at all, the whole time thinking to himself, how can I write a global best seller about this perfect guy calling me a faithless person?

Instead, as it says in the Gospel, Jesus didn’t mutter under his breath, or accidently leave the microphone on, he walked right up to the crowd and said, “You all don’t have enough faith!” That’s downright mean, if I said that to anyone here, you would kick me out of this sanctuary in a minute, or you would leave the church and never come back. We don’t want to hear that we are faithless people; we don’t want to hear that someone else has more faith.

Luckily the shock, and maybe even our disappointment, is watered down in the seven verses following todays Gospel reading, chapter 7:11-17. Jesus leaves the Centurions place and goes to another community where he raises a dead man, a man we know nothing about; the son of a mother who did nothing more to show she was a faithful person than by grieving the death of her son. In her grief, Jesus has compassion. Suddenly having faith takes a different turn

With that additional context, it becomes clear today’s Gospel text is not about how we determine who is faithful and who is not, but rather how we are faithful and how our faith is observed. It becomes a text that reminds us faith is not a complex journey of ins and outs, theological and scientific treatises, it is simply about knowing that Jesus could heal your friend from afar, not only by touch, but by a word spoken distantly from the one who is sick. It becomes a text that asks us to find surprise and hope in places we wouldn’t expect to find it.

Are there things in your life you don’t think can surprise you anymore? Are there things in your life that just don’t hold the same mystery, the same power, the same inspiration they once did? Are these things filled with disappointment, with frustration when they once were filled with love and passion? Did Jesus feel this way about the Israelites, or maybe about his own ministry? Where do we go to rediscover mystery, adventure?

When I was the Associate Rector in Duluth, at St. Paul’s, I found myself in an uninspired place; I wasn’t sure what was next. My spiritual director at the time remembered that I had loved reading fantasy novels when I was younger. She looked at me during a moment of stillness and said, “Go back, read the novels of your childhood”.

I did, and you know what, I found out what was next. I discovered imagination that had fallen asleep, or more likely, had been put to sleep by my mundane, in the moment loving adult self, a self that was unwilling to take risks or hope for a future better than the present. To this day I read a fantasy novel from my childhood each month, old Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels. I read them because they hold a key for unlocking something in my heart and mind I can’t find anywhere else.

What that key unlocks is my imagination, my desire to explore and go on adventures. After all, we are all explorers, God created us, I believe, with this one common bond, that we are meant to explore, meant to expand our worldview and broaden our perspectives as part of the human family.

We seek not because it is the right thing to do; not because it is the Christian thing to do; we seek not because we ought to. We seek, we explore and we imagine because God is constantly at work, and constantly moving in our lives. God is an ever-living surprise, so to speak, God is always doing something new and we desire to be a part of that. We seek so we can discover our deepest desires, so we can align our hearts and minds with the adventure that God has set us upon.

I heard the other day the universe is constantly expanding at this alarming yet amazing rate. Well, we are just like the universe, constantly seeking what is next. Even against our will sometimes, we are thrust into situations where our worldview is expanded and accelerated beyond what we ever imagined it could be. Things we thought held no inspiration for our lives become alive with possibility. People who were passersby yesterday become mentors and heroes the next.

Imagine with me for a moment, imagine what the world would be like if we decided it was complete, there was no need for adventure, for exploration. Think of what we would miss if we didn’t dream about what the future could be. Think about the children and their wonderment, the questions our kids ask us about random and funny things, seemingly simple topics that stump even the most intelligent adult.

Which of the children here today will be the next great physicist to discover I don’t even know what. Which of these children here will be the first to discover the next great environmental breakthrough? Which of these children present today will create the next world changing technology in how we communicate with one another?

And which of these children would have a chance to do that if we prevented them from being filled with wonder, if we prevented them from being surprised by God at work in the world. Not a single one of these children would grow up to change the world if we told them everything in the world is complete and there is nothing more for them to do. Surprise and wonder are vital parts of our lives, of how we experience the world and the people around us.

I am not sure what Jesus’ intentions were when he determined the crowd travelling with him less faithful. How do you determine faithfulness? How do we know if a person is faithful or not? What makes a faithful person? Christianity, Christian faith is not demonstrated by a recitation of facts. There is a big difference between belief and faith; too often belief has taken the place of faith in our Christian context. Is faith anything more than accepting fully the promise of God for a better future, for a better world?

Last week at the top of the steps stood my daughter, arms extended, standing firm on the last step before the landing. She looked at me determinedly and said, with a hint of a smile on her face, “What is the password?” First I said, “Naomi is the greatest daughter in the world.” She didn’t budge. So I said, “Naomi is the cutest and most beautiful girl in the world!” Still she didn’t budge, So I dug deep into my memory and said, “Naomi is my favorite daughter.” She laughed and said, Daddy! I’m your only daughter! Then asked if I gave up, to which I said yes. She leaped up and jumped into my arms and said, “The password is faith, Daddy! The Password is faith!”


Faith IS the password, its surprisingly simple, that is all we need to know, faith isn’t some convoluted complicated process of understanding, faith is simply faith. We go through life so often looking at disappointment and losing surprise. Maybe we should consider losing our disappointment and try discovering the surprise.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Love mercy: A sermon preached at St. Paul's, Minneapolis on March 3, 2013


Watching the 10 o’clock news this past week, WCCO had a special about the four things as a parent of tweens you should try not to do. Tweens are those kids who are at that age before they are teenagers and after they are completely dependent upon their parents for everything. Wait, does that ever change? Aren’t we all tweens does anyone ever become a teenager?

The four don’ts were the following, 1. Support, but don’t rescue. 2. Give kids what they need, but don’t give them everything they want. 3. Don’t do things for your kids they should do for themselves. 4. Don’t develop an allergy to your children’s unhappiness.

If you are anything like me, you might be thinking, “Duh, of course! Those are basic parenting 101 classes, kids these days; they don’t know how to do anything. Back in my day I walked to school, up hill, both ways.” It is interesting to see what TV news shows think is important and helpful. I did find the piece enlightening, but I was more intrigued about the people who have created industries telling us how to raise our toddlers, how to raise our tweens, how to deal with our rebellious teenagers and so on and so forth.

I am close to becoming a parent of tweens, so I did find the story interesting, if not a little simple. The urge to step in and rescue, or to help my kids in different situations is often overwhelming. I want nothing more than to be sure that my children are healthy and happy. I want nothing more than to show off my own abilities to protect and care for my children. Sometimes, the helping, the rescuing is not at all about the children, so much as it is about our own abilities to parent.

We often become overly connected to people we love, particularly those people we love that are in downward spirals, people that refuse our help. The toughest cases, I have found in 12 years of ministry, are those where we have invested our own time, talent and treasure into relationships that have never returned anything remotely to the level we have put in. And though we might think we do it out of the goodness of our hearts, we often desire to see some results from our efforts.

It makes me wonder about the motives of the gardener from todays Gospel reading, it even makes me wonder about the motives of our own God, meeting Moses face to burning bush. Don’t you think readings like this, particularly the parable, are not at all helpful in understanding how to help? Is this Gospel parable even a story about how to help, or how to care? After all, how much power do we really have to help ourselves not to mention anyone else we need to care for?

The collect for today has something to say about that, “we have no power in ourselves, to help ourselves” Thomas Cranmer wrote. No power to help ourselves? No power to fend off the adversities of the day, no power to protect ourselves from evil thoughts that assault the soul? If this is the case, and I think it is helpful for us to imagine once in a while that this truly is the case, how on earth do we think we can ever help anyone else?

Of course, that is the rub, if we can imagine ourselves as powerless, as humble beings who cannot help ourselves, much less the people around us, then we come to understand what mercy is all about. God’s mercy is more important than God’s judgment. God’s mercy is more important than the judgment of others. God’s mercy is more important than the judgment we place upon our own lives.

So, what is mercy? Is having mercy on someone the same as offering help? To me, mercy is the picture of this gardener at the base of the tree, spreading manure around to help it grow, mercy, it seems to me, is providing the resources, the humanity, the love that we have that is in excess of what we need to bring transformation, or even simply to bring a breath of new and fresh air into the life of another being.

In the Missional Church conversation happening throughout the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, mercy is working with people, and helping tends to be working for others. At least this is my interpretation. Having mercy isn’t about having pity on someone, having mercy is walking with someone in their pain. Walking with someone in his or her suffering. Having mercy is recognizing the dire situation someone or some community may be in and exploring how it is God is at work in their midst.

I have a friend who often asks the question, what kind of help is help? It’s a really good question to ask, what kind of help is help? I have a horrible picture on my iPhone of a little cartoon person deep in prayer, and the headline on it says: “Prayer, how to do nothing and still think you’re helping.” See, I told you it was horrible. But I think the question and this cynical perspective on prayer go together.

We pray for, we try to help, often accomplishing very little in our efforts, to change others. Showing mercy is much different, much deeper, it is about being vulnerable, open and willing to match up our own pain and suffering with someone else’s, to walk through the dark valleys of our lives, again and again if necessary, in order to find that we are not alone, and that God is at work in our midst.

As we walk with one another through the valleys and over the mountaintops, we come to understand what Meister Eckhart means when he says that there is no such thing as a spiritual journey. A spiritual journey implies a linear progression, a trip of sorts with a beginning and with an end. Meister Eckhart says if there were a spiritual journey it would be an inch long and miles deep. Being on a spiritual journey means we are walking with people, with others. And when we walk with others, we are required to journey back into places where we have already been, and already experienced, whether they are the dark valleys or the sunlit mountaintops.

I am reminded of one of my favorite stories from West Wing, when Leo, President Bartlett’s Chief of Staff tells Josh the following story. "This guy is walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'" What kind of help, is help?

Our lives are deeply interconnected, our lives do not progress to one single goal, they weave themselves throughout the countryside of our experiences, through one another’s tumultuous lives. Our interconnectedness requires patience and above all, mercy.

The relationships we have with one another and with God require us to get our hands dirty, not just in the clean dirt, but also in the disgusting manure. The interconnectedness we share with one another is about the discovery of the Holy, the divine, as the prophet Micah put so well, our interconnectedness requires only that we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The space we inhabit.

I am sitting in a Lunds, minding my own business, sipping on a delicious hot chocolate. The place is empty. There is a line of tables to my left, I am sitting against the wall, trying to get some tax work done, some money work done and all of those things I have to do, "have to" being the operative words there.

I am sitting here just getting settled when this guy walks up to the table next to me, which doesn't have a chair at it, and unloads all his stuff. He proceeds to adjust the table for some reason, moving it within a foot of me and then walks down the line of four tables, picks up a chair and drags it to the table.

I guess I am exerting a safe presence at the moment... Or maybe he has something planned for us.

Anyway, he breaks open his brown bag pulls out a banana, a fresh one, so it smells pretty good and a red devil cake doughnut. After this he pulls out a plastic knife and combines his fingers and knife to cut up the doughnut and chow down.

He takes the doughnut piece, stabs it with his knife and eats it from the end of his knife. Then he pulls out a normal cake doughnut and does the same. I didn't see how he ate the banana. It wasn't as disconcerting as the eating of the doughnut.

I kind of feel like he and I are sitting on the same side of a booth at a restaurant, how cheesy couples do when they are in love. I've never done such a thing.

This scenario gets me to thinking, why am I so uncomfortable that this guy decided to sit right next to me, and I mean right next to me. If I am not careful I will hit him with my elbow if I am typing. So my left arm is being held tight to my side.

What is it? Am I such a big guy that I need space? Is it that I don't want to seem like I am too close to this guy? What prevents me from saying "Hello" to him, to asking him about how his day was? What is it that keeps me from possibly creating a new acquaintance.

Space. The space that surrounds us is somehow an extension of us, an extension of our comfort and when people so brashly move into that space, just the fringes of it, mind you, we get set on edge, I do anyway. Would it have been any different if he was a she? Would it have been any different if I knew him, even if it was only as an acquaintance.

Boom, he stood up to throw away his knife and bag, pushed the table and it swung over and hit mine. I told you he was close. I am not sure why I am so uncomfortable, he is minding his own business, I am watching him more than he is watching me. I don't know what it is about the space we inhabit being our space. I don't know why this guy makes me uncomfortable. Maybe its the knife...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Last Sermon preached at Gethsemane. Jan 13, 2013


The Rev. Aron Kramer
First Sunday After the Epiphany
January 13th, 2013


I feel like John, John the Baptist that is. I feel like John might have felt at the transitioning of his ministry into Jesus’ own. Surrounded by expectation surrounded by people who thought he was it, he was the guy. John was baptizing and healing, preaching and teaching, and had a reputation to go with it all. Then Jesus comes and you hear from John this shift, something about being unworthy, and unquenchable fire. There’s a little bitterness in there. You have to imagine, that as the heavens were torn open, and that amazing sound, or voice comes from heaven, you have to think that John was hiding in the corner thinking to himself, “Why didn’t I think of that!”

Of course I am a little off, John was probably much more gracious and generous than I can imagine, after all, he is John the Baptist. So maybe it’s not so much John that I feel like, maybe I feel more like one of John’s disciples. There was great expectation around John, people wanted him to be the Messiah, wanted him to give them all they needed for their lives. People clung to the idea of John, and the words that he spoke. They made him their savior; their chosen one, only to see it all come crashing down at his premature death.

We find out later in the Pauline letters that there is often a disconnect between Paul and his understanding of Jesus as the Messiah and the people he runs into who were disciples of John the Baptist. John’s disciples, those who never decided to follow Jesus despite John’s urgings, put up a significant fight when it came to giving up their belief, their discipleship to John and shifting it towards Jesus.

But, as I think about this Gospel, as I think of the human emotions that John must have felt at the river where he was baptizing all those people, I remember a sermon preached here on one of the first Sundays I attended Gethsemane. It seems that as I wrote this last sermon, as I thought about endings, all I could bring to mind were beginnings. The sermon preached, the one I remember, was a sermon preached by the Rev. James Snyder, your interim priest of sorts, who walked with you after Sandye Wilson left and before I arrived.

Jim stood here at his own transition, knowing he would not be back all that much and preached a wonderful sermon, a letter to the Vicar, so to speak, where he asked me to remember that we are all vessels, vessels for the Holy Spirit. He looked at me, he looked at all of you and he said, “Aron is not your messiah, Aron is not your savior.” Then he looked at me and said, “Aron, you are not their messiah, you are not Gethsemane’s savior.”

Looking back on those words, I am sure I lost track of that very important fact, as perhaps some of you may have lost track of that message as well. I sure wished I could be the savior of Gethsemane, wished I could move us into sustainability and greatness. When Bishop Jelinek asked me to come here, he said to me, “Aron, if you succeed at Gethsemane you will be able to go anywhere you want.” I didn’t quite understand what he meant at that moment, I think I know now what he meant, but his words sure didn’t help keep that messiah complex at bay.

It’s possible I feel like John because I know deep in my soul that I am not the Messiah, that I am not the savior. I also know that I wanted to be that, I wanted to save this place. I, at many points lost the idea that I was simply preparing the way, always speaking, baptizing, loving, but not saving. I am not the savior of this place, not of anyone here, not of the world.

I am simply a human being, a child of God, made to glorify God in the world to the best of my ability. Made by God to be fully alive, filled with the Spirit and overcome with the abundant love God has for me, and for the entire world. And when I forgot those things, it wasn’t long before the brokenness of my life, brought me back on track. It was through life events such as Eliot’s near death and his fight with Leukemia that reminded me of who I was. It was the struggle of a broken marriage resulting in a divorce and my own challenges that were never fully understood, shame that went deeper than I thought and effected more of you than I could imagine. These are the things that knocked me off my pedestal, knocked us down from our high places.

We are all human, I am human, and I am grateful for that. I look around this sanctuary, indeed, as I wrote much of this sermon I sat in those wonderful orange chairs over there absorbing as many memories as I could this past week, thinking about all the stuff I didn’t accomplish. All the things I wanted to do, but now, will not get the chance. But as I began to be filled with a little despair, despair about work not completed, about work not fulfilled, about relationships ending, I was drawn to this table, this altar. This one here where so many sacraments have been shared, so many words have been spoken, so much love has been felt and shared.

I was reminded of one thing that we did do really well together. We, together, tore open the exclusive barriers, the walls, and the limitations that the Church and the world has placed on this table and we together created a hospitable environment and a welcoming community that has changed the face of this Church.

When I was ordained, The Rev LeeAnne Watkins preached at my ordination. Her sermon I have mostly forgotten unfortunately, but what I do remember has had a lasting impact on my ministry, on the very vocation I have lived, and on the core of my own humanity. LeeAnne preached about the importance of guarding the Eucharistic table. She said it was of the utmost importance that I, as a priest of this Church guard this table with my very life.

Now, many of you may find that a bit odd, some of you come from traditions where that is exactly what was happening, the table was protected from those deemed unworthy to participate in the life of the Church. Some of you come from places where the table was only open to those who would believe exactly as the rest of the community believed.

But LeeAnne wasn’t speaking of the exclusion that has been created around our Eucharistic feast; no , she was speaking of something much more difficult and much more dangerous and much more uncomfortable. She was asking me to guard the table from those who would prevent anyone from coming to it. She was preparing me to guard with my life this table against all those who believed you had to be perfectly worthy, or a dutiful follower of Christ in some certain and narrow understanding of the word follower, in order to be welcomed at it.

Little did LeeAnne know, and little did I know, that I would come to understand the meal we share together at this table as the most important and most vital part of our humanity and core to my understanding of the abundant love that God has for all of us. 

Together we have done this work, of this I am certain, we have held open the iron curtains that are placed in front of this table to prevent people who are deemed unworthy from participating in the life of this community. We have torn open the limitations set upon Christian membership, upon belonging by being sure that this table, this altar is a place of respite, a place of love for anyone who seeks to eat with us.

It is this task that I entrust to you as I leave this community of faith. For it is, I believe, the only way the Church today will find its way towards wholeness. We must guard this table against all those who would claim it to be an exclusive club. We must guard this table from those who wish to place regulations, and expectations upon it. We must guard this table from being limited in any way to those who are in the world.

And how do we guard it? How do we protect it? Not in the way you might be thinking. We guard it by welcoming everyone to it. We guard it by taking it to the streets, letting it get dirty, letting it get beat up. Not worrying about who places their grubby hands on it. Not fretting about who might do what with it. We guard it by welcoming everyone, every single person that ever walks through these doors. We guard it in the same way that God has foolishly and crazily and ridiculously blessed each of us. By offering it to anyone and everyone who wishes to eat with us.

How we guard this table is how we also guard our own hearts, which is the rub. That is why it is so vital to understand our worship in such a poignant way. If we put limitations on who can come here, than we put limitations on who we allow to love us and who we allow ourselves to love. It is so easy to think that Sunday morning is the only place where hospitality is vitally important. Placing expectations on who is a good member, who I like and who I don’t like only leads to exclusion and a cold heart. When our hearts are open to everyone, so is our table, and we are fully alive.

After John baptized all the people, Jesus came to the river and there Jesus was baptized. And as Jesus was baptized, the heavens were torn open. And the Spirit descended upon Jesus and a voice was heard to say, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” Dear ones, this is what we are called to do, we have been baptized by the Spirit, we have been welcomed into the Body of Christ, our work is to tear open the iron curtains of exclusion that surround this table and surround our own hearts and lavishly, and foolishly share with everyone that same blessing. It is vital that each of us, and everyone in the world for that matter, hear it.

You are my beloved, and with you I am well pleased.
You are my beloved, and with you I am well pleased.
You are my beloved, and with you I am well pleased.

Thank you all for the ability and the opportunity to minister with you. You are my beloved, and with you I am well pleased, I pray that you will be pleased with me.

Amen.