Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Psalm 113 - "Celtic Praise"

         Once there was a preacher who was trying to sell his horse.  A potential buyer stopped by and wanted to try it out.  The buyer mounted the large animal and was all set to take off.                           
         "By the way, before you start," the preacher said, "you should know that this horse has been trained to respond only to certain instructions. Go is ‘praise the lord’ and stop is ‘amen.’"
         The potential buyer sitting on the horse said, “Well, that sounds easy enough.”  He patted the horse on the neck and said, "Praise the lord," and the horse started to trot, just as the preacher said it would. The man again said, "Praise the lord," and the horse started to gallop. 
         All was going well until suddenly the rider spotted a cliff a few feet in front of them and yelled "Amen!!!" The horse stopped just in time, right at the very edge of the cliff. The man let out a sigh and wiped the beads of sweat from his brow and murmured just loud enough for the horse to hear: "Praise the Lord."  Oops!
        Our relationship with God is grounded in praise – not because God is ready to trip us up and send us flying over some cliff or because God is vain and needs praise in order to build up sacred confidence and self-esteem.  No – we praise God because God is so worthy of praise.  Look around you!  What blessings abound!  God has done such wonderful things. 
         In fact, many of the Psalms that we find in our Bible do not merely suggest that we praise God.  They do not casually call us to an attitude of praise when we might feel like it.  They actually demand us to praise. 
         At least, Psalm 113 that we just heard does.  Read in the original Hebrew, that opening sentence – “Praise the Lord!” – is not simply a recommendation or a passing thought.  It is a command.  “Praise the Lord – you and you and you.  All of you!  All of us! Praise the Lord!”
         And then the Psalmist goes on to tell us just why God is deserving of such praise.  As Reformed Church pastor Scott Hoezee notes, “The message of the psalms is that if only we could see and understand God better, we would be naturally led to praise him. Unhappily, we don't see so well, and so the psalmists need to order us to do what should come naturally.”
         What is God like then to evoke from us such praise?  Well, the Psalmist has lots to say about that too.  In this psalm in particular, nothing is left in the abstract. 
         Hoezee goes on to note, “In this case the psalmist mentions two specific things for which to give praise: one has to do with the sheer splendor of God, the other has to do with the attention God pays to us in the mundane details of our lives. Why praise God?  Because (God) is exalted—(God) made everything there is. Not only that, however, this God's real splendor is that (God) takes care of the poor and is deeply concerned for the plight of childless women.” 
         And the Psalmist can say all that too because “the Old Testament makes consistently clear that God stunned the imagination of the ancient Israelites not just because of (God’s) awesome power but even more so because of (God’s) tender care…. this was a God who could spin quasars with one hand and lift up some nameless poor person with the other.  
This was a God who could make mountains smoke and who could at the same time tenderly smile on a childless woman.” 
         In short, the Psalmist paints a picture of God as a Sacred Being who spans past, present, and future, who connects the vastness of heaven with the mundane reality of life on earth.  Here is a God who encompasses the whole universe beginning at the moment of creation, but also focuses downward and inward in order to embrace and love, to be known to, and intimately be involved with, each one of us.  Here is a God – our God – who is, at once, super large and super small.
         Personally, I love Psalm 113, this short psalm of praise – and it is a perfect one on which to reflect as we acquaint ourselves with Celtic spirituality at the start of our new worship series.  By holding up this two-pronged nature of God – expanding infinitely outward as the universe unfolds while at the same time zooming intimately inward to the most mundane circumstances in our world community – this Psalm touches on several characteristics of Celtic Christianity.
         But, first off, who were the Celts, and what is this brand of Christianity that resonates with so many people today?  Though the word, Celtic, covers a whole culture that includes pagan and pre-Christian elements, we are drawn to the form of Christianity that developed in the British Isles through the missionary work of St. Patrick and St. Columba and St. Cuthbert among others.  It was an expression of Christianity that integrated some of the ancient beliefs with more orthodox Roman Christianity. 
         The word, Celt, comes from Keltoi meaning stranger or hidden ones.  The Gaelic word is “ceilt” and means “an act of concealing” from which our English word “kilt” is derived.  And you do not need to have watched even the first season of Outlander to know what a kilt conceals under it!
         In the centuries before Christ, the northern neighbors of ancient Greece and Rome were known as the Keltoi.  Over time, these wandering people were pushed to the outer edges of the Roman Empire – to Scotland, Wales, parts of England, and Ireland.  They were rural, tribal, nomadic people, so different from those in other parts of the Roman Empire where the church was predominantly centered in powerful cities.  Besides that, they were simply too far away from Rome to be incorporated effectively into that church.
         As Trevor Miller reflects in his “Beginner’s Guide to Celtic Spirituality”, “the Roman church was unsure how to respond to these people as they were relational rather than rational, inspirational rather than institutional.” 
         As Saints Patrick and Columba and Cuthbert and the others preached the Gospel message to these nomadic tribes, what emerged was a unique form of Christianity that was grounded in the native traditions of family and community, in the wonders of the natural world, and in the sacredness of all of life.  They embraced a God who connected the vastness of heaven with the mundane realities of the lives they experienced.
         Here then are five foundational characteristics of that Celtic Christianity.  First, Celtic Christianity was based on monasticism.  However, do not be imagining hermits or be thinking of singing monks shut off from the world.  On the contrary, an essential element in the Celtic church was living in community.  That is what monasticism meant.
         The role of the church was not simply to declare doctrine, but rather to live out the Gospel of Christ in the world, in community.  The central message was less on knowing and more on doing. It was personal and relational and so reflected Celtic culture.  It was seeking to be “at home” with Jesus.  It was as St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel; if necessary, use words.”
         Second, Celtic Christianity was a sacred celebration of the ordinariness of human life and the world.  For Celtic Christians, nothing was secular because everything was sacred and nothing lay outside of God’s grace.  God could be seen – not in mystical visions or necessarily even in church – but God could be found in and through everything around the Celts – in what they saw, heard, tasted, smelled, and touched.  It all spoke of God, and it was incarnational living at its best. 
         As Miller writes in his Guide,  “There was no false divide between the sacred and secular. Where an integrated life, of body and soul, work and worship, wonder and ordinariness; prayer and life are the norm. A sacramental outlook that, because it sees God in everything, encouraged a reverence for God’s creation and a respect for the care of his world. An everyday spirituality of ordinariness accessible to all.”  The ever-dynamic presence of God was infused all of daily life, having the potential to transform it. 
In this interweaving of intimacy and awe, every little occurrence could be an encounter with God. 
         Third, Celtic Christians were committed to pilgrimage, in the very best sense of the word.  In Celtic Christianity, a pilgrimage might be a physical wandering from place to place – but never with a specific destination, as we might think nowadays.  Pilgrimage might also be an inner journey of the heart.  Either way, it was a pathway to connecting with people, building community, and exploring spirituality.  It was a living into (and out of) the story of faith. 
         In other words, for the Celtic Christian, all of life was a pilgrimage, “a journey without maps” (to quote Frederick Buechner).  It was a moving into the known and the unknown, following the nudge of a Spirit born out of the wildness of the British Isles, seeking God in both the excitement and the ordinariness of life.
         Fourth, Celtic Christians believed in hospitality of the heart.  They believed in welcoming God into their lives each day and welcoming others as well because, who knows, one of them might be the Christ.  It was an all-embracing welcome – not fettered by age, gender, or ethnic background. 
         Celtic Christians looked for the sacred soul in everyone.  It is as the ancient Irish rune declared: “I saw a stranger last night. I put food in the eating place, drink in the drinking place, music in the listening place, and in the sacred name of the Triune, he blessed myself and my house and my cattle and my dear ones. And the lark said in her song, ‘Often, often, often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.’”    
         Fifth, Celtic Christians were creation affirming.  They believed that God would redeem all of creation – all of it - through Jesus Christ.  They embraced the wonder of creation as well as their own immediate physical environment.  They maintained a strong sense of place and understood the importance of roots and identity.  
         They knew that God could be found in nature, especially in what they called “thin places” where the veil between the worlds was lifted.  Even time was a sacred dimension.  For Celtic Christians, time was not chronological with one historical even following another.  It was eternal time where past, present, and future were all linked.
         All those characteristics of Celtic Christianity we will be exploring the next four Sundays.  We will be like the three ancient Irishmen who were adrift on the sea from Ireland for seven days in small boats without oars. They landed in Cornwall in the west of England and were brought to the court of King Alfred.   He asked them where they had come from and where they were going.  They answered that “they stole away because they wanted for the love of God to be on pilgrimage, we care not where.”
         So it will be for us.  We too will be on a pilgrimage.  We too will be wandering and, in our wandering, we shall be wondering about Christ and where the Spirit might be calling us.
         Each Sunday, as we enter this sacred space and walk beneath the branches of the trees at the back, symbolically we will be entering a new world.  For some, it may be just another week in church.  For others, it might be a thin place. 
         Each week we will begin with visuals of the landscapes of Scotland, Ireland, or Wales.  We will see, as theologian John O’Donohue said in a public radio interview:  The diversity of the landscape, the amazing kind of light that’s in it. There is something in the (Celtic) landscape that naturally anchors a spirituality which somehow reveals or discloses the eternal.” For all of us, this worship series will be an opportunity to praise God as we are commanded in the Psalms to praise God.  We will praise God through the Celtic melodies we will hear and sing.  We will praise God through the ancient and modern Celtic prayers we will pray.  We will bless one another with ancient Celtic blessings.  We will anchor our worship and praise in the notion that all of life is a blessing and that God can be found not only in great cathedrals but also in our little church. 

         As one blogger I read this week wrote, “We may not be able to travel to faraway places, but there is yet benefit in being a ‘heart’ pilgrim.  (That is,) having that nomadic approach to life that is always open to moving on, not getting stuck in a rut, open to new experiences, new relationships and understandings – open to the ever onward call of Spirit, (the Spirit that) Celtic Christians perceived as ‘the wild goose’!" And who knows, on our travels, we might even meet St. Patrick, St. Cuthbert, or St. Columba on the way.  But surely, somewhere, somehow, we will have an opportunity to meet the Christ.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 "You Can't Please All the People All the Time"

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
         Though we often attribute that quote to Abraham Lincoln, he actually adapted it from an earlier writer named John Lydgate.  Lydgate was a 15th century English monk and a prolific poet, turning out over 145,000 lines of verse over the course of his lifetime.
         Now, that fact is just a bit of historical trivia.  However, in those words he wrote is nestled an age-old truth.  Both Lydgate and Lincoln were right.  No matter how hard you try, you cannot please all of the people all of the time. 
         One of your children will forever dispute your parenting skills – particularly when he or she reaches the ripe old age of 13 or so.  Someone will always find the sermon boring or will dislike one or more of the hymns.  At least one family member will announce fault in the dinner menu and wonder aloud why you have to serve pasta – again.  Donald Trump will continue to be a divisive political figure, and Congress will be hard pressed to put together a health care bill that everyone raves about.
         Just as polarization seems to be one of our cultural norms, so it was for Jesus as well.  He also found himself in no-win situations, and his frustration over the latest one was apparent in the rant that began today’s Scripture passage.  I can just imagine Jesus throwing up his arms in disgust and lashing out at whoever might be listening.
“How can I account for this generation? You people are like spoiled children, a bunch of whiners: We played a merry tin whistle for you, and you would not dance.  We sang a maudlin funeral dirge, and you would not mourn.  What gives with all of you?”
         First there was John the Baptist, Jesus goes on to say, and people called him crazy.  He was too austere, what with the fasting coupled with his sackcloth and ashes approach.  And noshing on those locusts – even mixed with sweet wild honey? Ick!  And besides, he yelled too much:  “Repent!  Repent, you brood of vipers!”
         “Who wants to be labeled a snake and cow tow to a religion like that?” you asked.  “I would rather play golf.” 
         Be honest now! (Jesus says.) All of you reacted to John the Baptist with these unspoken words: “Dude, lighten up a bit.”  So – you pushed John aside.  Too much of the Chicken Little/the sky is falling mentality for your liking.
         Jesus was on a roll now, so he continued.  “And then I came, and you label me a glutton and a drunkard because I eat with the wrong sort of people and have been known to change water into wine.  I befriended tax collectors, whores, and miscellaneous minor sinners not unlike yourselves, and you label me a supporter of the riffraff – so far beneath you. 
         Just because I enjoy a good feast every now and then, you figure, well, if Jesus does not take this religion stuff seriously, then neither will we.  See – it is all settled.  I am off to play golf.
         There you have it.  Both John the Baptist and Jesus were regarded as irrelevant in their day and time. But isn’t that how it always works? There is always an excuse.  “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
         That being said, as your pastor, I think this first part of our Scripture passage raises a couple of important questions for all of you sitting here in church.  In the week ahead, I challenge you to ponder the following: 
         What will motivate you to ever more readily interact with God, engage with the kingdom, and deepen your spiritual life? 
         What will inspire you to make this church a priority in your busy life? 
         What will motivate you to come to worship more consistently, learn from each other more intentionally, and participate more actively in the ministries of our church? 
         What will it take to move you from the inertia of doing only what you are doing now to the satisfaction of doing more in the name of Christ?
         One blogger I read this week summarized modern-day church commitment: “It's that people don't want to be tied down on Sunday, "It's the one day of the week I have to myself." Or, “it cuts into family time”. Or, "I'm not a bad person, why do I have to be told I'm a sinner?"
         (He went on to say:) To those who say it's the only day of the week you have to yourself, I would respond, "Everything you do during the week is ultimately for yourself." To those who say it cuts into family time, I would argue that this -- church -- has the potential of becoming an extended family capable of more support than you can imagine. And to those who don't think they're bad people, well, nobody is perfect.
         (Other) people claim that church is too boring or they can worship God just as well while hiking or fishing or hunting. Or they want to know what they will get out of it, as if church were there simply to meet their needs.
         To those who say church is boring, I remind them that church isn't there for our entertainment. To those who claim they can worship God on their own, I say, "You're right, but what are you learning? How are you living into the community of God's kingdom?" And to those who ask, "What am I getting out of it?" I ask in return, "What are you putting into it?"
         Our blogger is saying that the message of Jesus, which, of course, lies at the root of who we are as a church, is not about us - and our needs, but it is rather about them – and their needs.  The Good News of Jesus is to be discovered nestled somewhere in our feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, welcoming the outcast, and raising up the lowly. 
         “Oh, no, there she goes again,” you might sigh and whisper. “Why do we have to have a pastor who always seems to come round to talking about and challenging us to take action, to be part of the mission and outreach of this church, in short, to do something?  When do we get to rest?”
         And so we come to the second part of our Scripture reading. Jesus speaks it almost like a prayer, but it is really an invitation.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
“Come to me, all you who are labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
         To those laboring under harsh political systems and narrow religious structures, Jesus says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”
         To those burdened by attempting to be a good parent under especially trying circumstances, Jesus says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”
         To those caught in marriages that are disintegrating and relationships that are falling apart, Jesus says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”
         To those so stressed out by caring for others whose health is failing or whose own health is wearing them down, Jesus says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”
         To those in any kind of need that is hindering their ability to work for the kingdom, to live compassionately, to seek justice, and to be a peacemaker, Jesus says, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”
         Discipleship is not easy – whether it is practiced in our own families with a trying teenager or an aging parent, or practiced locally in our town, or even globally.  Jesus never said that being one of his followers would be a Sunday School picnic.  He never intimated that his would be the easy path.  Certainly we do need rest.
         That being said, Jesus might have abandoned us at this critical and uncomfortable juncture. He might have just said, “You’re on your own, dude.”  But instead, he reminded us that we would never be alone when we are trying to be his followers.  “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”
         Now, before you stop listening and figure that you have found a loophole (perhaps one you have been searching for), understand that, in this passage, Jesus is not saying that our burdens and problems will be taken away.  Much as we might long for such an easy solution, he will not be shouldering them all himself, so we do not have to. 
         That is why the image of the yoke is so fitting.  As you know, a yoke is a farm tool that is put across the neck or shoulders of two or more oxen or horses.  It allows them to pull heavy equipment that they could not pull nearly as efficiently as individual animals.  Yoked animals inevitably are able to work together, increasing their strength and effectiveness.
        And so it is with us and with Jesus.  He does not take away our burdens and problems.  The harsh political systems and narrow religious structures will not disappear.  The trying circumstances of parenting will not go away.  The marriage or relationship will not be miraculously saved.  Caring for the health of others and our own health will not suddenly be a piece of cake. 
         However, we will not be doing the caring and enduring and working and changing alone – and that should be both comforting and energizing.  It is like familiar story by Mary Stevenson:
         One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
         This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
         The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
         Jesus promises us rest when we find rest in him. And when we rest in him, he promises that we can learn from him because to rest in him is to be yoked with him. And when we are yoked with him, we will learn of compassion, learn of forgiveness, and learn of love – and it is amazing how learning and practicing those things alone will ease the burdens we carry. 
         And when we rest with him, we will find wisdom.  When we rest with him, we will find that we are yoked (or connected) to the one through whom God’s dream of mercy and grace is being made real.
         When we rest with him, we will find hope where once there was no hope, strength where once we were bone-tired, courage where once we feared only for the worst. 
We will discover a fullness where once we only felt emptiness coupled with a gnawing hunger for something that is missing.  And in that hope, in that strength, in that courage, in that fullness, we will find that, with him, once again we can work for the Kingdom, for the dream, for the vision of the world God intended – in our families, in our communities, in our world. 
         Personally I find the message of resting in Jesus a lot more to my liking than a bunch of religious rules and regulations – someone telling me what I have to believe.  As your pastor, that is how I hope I lead you in this congregation.  I hope is that together we are creating a community of faith that, as our blogger wrote, is “driven by the understanding that we are yoked to the one who danced; which, again, although restful and light, is still a yoke….(and so) we are required to think about the Other” and the least of these – even as we find our rest in him.
         However, I remember what John Lydgate and Abraham Lincoln both said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” And so there will be people who will not be comfortable with the path this community of faith has chosen to walk.  We will not be what they are looking for in a church.  And so they will go to other churches – or decide to play golf.

         But you are here, and your presence is a blessing.  You are not playing golf, and you are enough. So come and rest if you need to.  Come and gather strength and courage for whatever lies ahead.  Come and figure out just why you set foot here this morning – and go tell someone your reason – so they can find the rest and strength and courage they will need to help make God’s dream come true. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Matthew 10:40-42 "On a Wing and a Prayer - and Something More"

         The twelve disciples were ready to go out into the world. Onward and upward!  We found that out last week.  Each one had chosen to accept the seemingly impossible mission that Jesus set before them:  Loving when loving would appear to be impossible or, at the very least, highly disagreeable and even fearsome.  In accepting their mission, of course, the twelve also embraced the profound responsibility they shouldered for the powers that had been bestowed upon them. 
         In spite of any initial misgivings, they were about to embark on a faith journey that would lead them down dusty urban alleyways and backwater rural communities in order to heal the sick, touch the untouchable, cast out demons, and even raise the dead in Jesus’ name.  Quite a courageous undertaking, to be sure – seeing as how Jesus had told them in more ways than one that they had an excellent chance of being rejected along the way – sometimes by entire towns and villages. He likened their journey to sheep finding themselves penned in with wolves.  Not a great real confidence booster!
         Jesus had coached Peter, James, John, and the others in how to behave and what they should take with them.  First off, they were to share in his own poverty, sense of homelessness, and lack of permanent roots.  He told them they were to carry no money – gold, silver, or copper.  That being said, they were also under no circumstances to pretend to be beggars in order to ensure their evening meal or a place to sleep.  Instead they were to simply offer a greeting of peace - and hope for the best.  Talk about heading out on a wing and a prayer!
          Jesus indicated that they would not need to carry a roller board or backpack either.  You see, he told them that the clothes on their back would be sufficient – not even an extra pair of sandals should a strap break or a walking stick to steady them on the long miles ahead.  At least, that is what the Gospel writer of Matthew outlines for us earlier in the chapter we just read. 
         According to this Gospel writer, Jesus had also given his followers a whole host of instructions, which we learned about last Sunday.  Remember? The disciples were to be courageous enough to speak out on difficult issues that flew in the face of God’s dream for the world.  They were not to be bullied by those who would surely laugh at their quaintly archaic perspectives. 
         They were not to be shut down by those who would loudly insist that non-violence was impractical in a world where tempers flared and terrorists roamed, or that compassion would only cause you to lose your shirt, or that all the indigent needed to do was show a bit of hutzpah, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, find jobs, and quit feeling so entitled to government handouts like Medicaid and healthcare subsidies.  
         Jesus told them not to let destructive family relationships get in the way of the Gospel message either.  Instead, he instructed them to bind themselves to and support communities – churches maybe - where like-minded people would work together for the kingdom that Jesus kept talking about, the kingdom that they had quickly discovered was the way life should be. 
         However, above all, he reminded them that they should undertake this perilous faith journey trusting that they never traveled alone.  The Spirit always hovered in their midst, nudging them here and there when the going got particularly tough. 
         When you come right down to it, the disciples were pretty vulnerable when they set out. Sure – they could raise the dead, but not being card-carrying NRA members, they had nothing tangible for their own protection and little to ensure their wellbeing. 
         When you think about it, they were dependent on the women and men they met along the way.  They could only extend their greeting of peace (“Peace be with you”) even as they proclaimed and lived out what Jesus had taught them.  They had to trust in the hospitality of those they encountered. 
          It would be a man moved to generosity who would share an evening meal with them.  It would be a compassionate person who would offer them a bed.  It would be a woman stirred to kindness who would wash their dirty, tired feet.   It would be a patient person who listened to the story of their day’s journey. 
         Their wellbeing was beyond their own control.  They were on their own unless someone took them in. Their welfare depended on the tender-heartedness of the strangers they encountered.  They had to rely on those who had something to share.  They counted on anyone who would extend a radical welcome.
         Jesus told the twelve that they had to put themselves out there and see what would happen.  And so they did – and because we are sitting here in church this morning, we have to presume that it worked as Jesus said it might.  There was something to be said for not only offering but also receiving hospitality.
         Welcome to Walmart!  Welcome to church!  Welcome to Applebee’s.  Table for two?  Unfortunately, the art of welcoming and hospitality has lost much of its original import and flavor over the millennia.  There is a certain breezy rote to it now. 
         It is like the woman who had invited some people to dinner.  At the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?" 
         "I wouldn't know what to say," the little girl replied. 
         "Just say what you hear Mommy say," the mother said.
         The little girl bowed her head and said, "Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?" 
         Gone are the days when the Biblical character Abraham welcomed three strangers who showed up on his desert doorstep and ushered them out of the blazing sun.  He and his wife Sarah prepared a feast for them only to find that, when dinner was over and the strangers had moved on, they had been entertaining angels, unaware.  Gone are the days when Mary broke open her alabaster jar of expensive oil and poured the perfume over Jesus’ feet, drying them with her hair as a sign of radical welcome and extravagant hospitality.  
         And yet, time and time again, as Episcopal writer Barbara Brown Taylor notes, "the Holy Spirit comes knocking at the door, disturbing our members-only meeting and reminding us that it is time to share."   It is time to welcome the stranger and share our nation with the world’s refugees, no matter their religious heritage. What are the words etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty?  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”
         It is time to welcome the impoverished throughout the world by more equitably sharing our resources and demanding less in return – even if that means canceling debt and no longer having limitless choices at our meals. It is time to ensure that we have a planet suitable for sharing with our children and grandchildren.  As Christians, it is time to open our hearts, even as many around us are closing theirs.
         I remember on one of my 60-mile Susan G. Komen breast cancer walks, my sister and I were walking through a neighborhood outside of Philadelphia.  At the end of one driveway, a boy of about five or six sat on a small chair with a single 16 ounce bottle of water and a bunch of those little paper Dixie cups. 
         As we walked by, he poured a tiny bit of water in a cup and offered it to each walker.  Just as a tired dusty walker in Palestine loved a cup of cold water in Jesus’ day, so this 60-mile walker appreciated the kindness of that little boy. 
         Anyone can offer a gift that small. That is what Jesus said in this passage we read.  None of us is too old, too young, too busy, too financially strapped to share something, to extend hospitality.
         But what is in it for us, you might ask? What do we get out of all this faithful living? Jesus says at the very end of these verses that there is a reward.  Well, what is it?  A fast track to heaven?  Stars in our crown?  Endless prosperity? 
         As one blogger wrote, “Surely there has to be some kind of reward for serving faithfully! The first disciples certainly felt this was only fair. At one point Peter, who often seemed to be the spokesman for the others (a bit like a union rep), had this to say to Jesus: ‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’”
         What is the reward for choosing to live out the Gospel message in our own lives?  What is the reward for putting up with the laughter and bullying Jesus told his disciples they would have to put up with? What is the reward for speaking out and for being the hands and feet of Jesus in this day and age?
         The reward is this:  Experiencing, if only for a moment, God’s dream realized – and in that brief moment knowing viscerally that what we are called to do as Jesus’ followers is worth the bullying, the derisive laughter, and the culture all around us screaming it cannot be done.  
         The reward is seeing a child fed, a family held together, a refugee saved. The reward is seeing that God’s dream can become a reality – here, now, in this nation - and that we have a role in making that happen. And if that is not enough of a reward, well, I shudder for the world.
         Oh sure, there are those who will tell us that the church is dying and that our message is outdated and unworkable.  Jesus warned the disciples about that – and he was right. 
         There were those who rejected the twelve and those who turned their backs on them.  But there were others who were moved by the compassion they showed as they healed and the kindness they demonstrated as they listened and the courage they mustered up when they spoke out against the inequities and iniquities of the Roman world.
         In welcoming the twelve, those ancient men and women demonstrated that which lies at the core of Christian discipleship - extravagant and radical welcome.  It is at the heart of what Jesus preached and is the foundation of God’s dream for the world. Whoever welcomed those first disciples, well, it was like welcoming Jesus himself.
         And you know what?  I think Jesus knew that the disciples would be OK on their journey.  I think he knew that – though they may not have had two coins to rub together or a spare pair of sandals - they did have something of far greater value to share – and that would be themselves - awash in kindness and compassion. 
         I think Jesus knew that at least some of those people the disciples met would recognize the gift they brought - and would respond in turn – even down through ages – even to us.  It is as Church of Scotland pastor Roddy Hamilton reflected in this poem:
gather round
I have a story to tell
of one who reached inside himself
and took a handful of love
like a pile of stardust
and said: this is for you
it is all you need
it is all you will ever need
there is enough here
to change the whole world
take it
many laughed at him
mocked him
and ignored the invitation
but some dared to take it
and those who did
noticed something about this love
they found they could do what the gift-giver could do
they could stand with the lost
welcome the traveler
eat with the hungry
they found themselves doing what the man first did to them
give something of themselves to others
they became like the man
offering themselves
and as they offered themselves
others took the invitation
and many still do
and many still trust
it is enough to change the whole world
         
Welcome to the kingdom, to the way life should be.