Thursday, September 19, 2013

THIS IS A TEST, THIS IS ONLY A TEST

One of the growing edges in my faith in the last 3 months or so is acting on the belief that God wants me to be more positive, optimistic, and possibility minded. I am more naturally melancholy and sarcastic, so this has taken some openness and effort on my part, and a lot of work by the Holy Spirit on my heart.




My last week has been rough. Jen has had surgery for breast cancer. I got a speeding ticket heading back to Rapid to quickly make it to an appointment with the doctor that came up last minute. Our home phone went out, and we had to have it repaired, and I bought a new phone system because I thought the old one was broken. And due to both higher stress levels and less diligence on following my diet, my weight loss has stalled a little bit.

This lesser amount of diligence continued this morning, when I took the back road along the river, one of my favorite little roads in all of town, to check my lottery tickets and get a Mountain Dew pick me up. As I drove, the city maintainence department was mowing the grass along the river. They hit a patch of asphalt buried under the tall grass. It hit my winshield. 
All I heard was a loud blast. I stopped. My window was ruined. But, I am unharmed.


Now at this point, I have a decision. I can choose my attitude. I can get angry. I can choose to believe that this is just one more event in the last couple of months to prove that nothing really seems to be going right. I have been there before. I have had that attitude before. Or, I can choose to look at things differently. So I began to ask myself a series of questions.

What if the window wasn't safety glass? What if I had the window down and a large rock hit my head with that kind of force? What if the kids had been in the car? Might something have happened to them? Thankfully, none of those things happened. God has blessed me. It could have been a lot worse.


Besides that, the lawn mower was a child of a member of our church. He was a great guy. He was courteous, intelligent, and agreed that my version of events is what happened. He could have tried to deny it was him, asked for proof, etc. Instead he went and gathered up all the pieces of asphalt where the car got hit, looked for more, so that what had happened would not happen again. Here is the pile:



I am safe. Don't even have a scratch. The city is paying to have the window fixed. I got to meet some great new people at City Hall, in the city maintenence department, and at the glass shop. I am blessed, even if today's circumstances were not ideal. 

So I am choosing to be thankful, and see the rays of sunshine through the storm clouds. I know that I am blessed, and some silly freak accident is not going to change that attitude.

That is all.





Thursday, September 05, 2013

Embrace the Call--Sermon on 8.25.13

Embrace the Call
We all have different journeys. Different cards we are dealt. Each of us, because of our upbringings, have assets and gifts that we bring to the table from our personal histories. We also have challenges and limitations we face based upon our personal histories.
God was good enough to bless me with a wonderful wife, two super cool little kids, and a dog named Jake. Now, I don’t worry too much about the dog, but I do, at times, get concerned about my wife and children.

One of the things that I get concerned about from time to time is how their life has been altered because of my choice to accept the call of Christ to full-time Christian ministry. Sometimes, I believe it is an asset to be in a preacher’s family. Other times, I believe it is a burden that has been placed upon them.



With Jennifer, I worry about expectations people have for her. You know the expectations. Big poofy, bouffant hair. Perhaps a beehive. Playing the piano. Having a southern accent. Dressing her husband in a shiny suit with a pinky ring. Making sure his toupee is on just right. All while playing the piano perfectly. And, of course, Jennifer fits none of those expectations.


Then there are the kids.The other day, Karis and I were playing on the floor. “Pastor,” she said, “could you come here for a second.” 

“Don’t call me ‘Pastor’ Karis, call me Daddy,” I said.

But she kept insisting. PASTOR. PASTOR. PASTOR.

Jennifer asked, “What does Pastor do?”.

“He talks to people, and tells them what to do,” she said.



The conversation went from there. I thought I was in some clerical twilight zone, where my child was having some alien, aberrant experience on Planet Pastor. It was creepy.
I think of my friends who are PKs. One is a fundamentalist pastor in the country near Kannapolis, NC. He and his brother married sisters from one of the countries that lived on the Eastern end of the former Soviet Union. The other two are atheists.


I say all of this concerns me at times, and it does. But I am also aware of this, God has called me for as long as he has called me to do full-time Christian ministry. And that will have its challenges and its joys for all of us. But, it is our job to EMBRACE THE CALL. The call of God to say what he wants me to say, to go where he wants us to go, and to do what he wants us to do.

Jeremiah was a son of a priest. He grew up in a town called Anatoth. Anatoth was known for having a priest that was on the wrong side of a battle for who would be king three hundred years before Jeremiah was born. The priest Abiathar, after David died, stood on the side of Solomon’s brother in his quest for the Kingdom of Israel. When Solomon took power, he banished him from Jerusalem and sent him back to Anatoth.

Jeremiah grew up a pastor’s kid. And then, while he was young, perhaps in junior high, he hears God call him into the ministry. God says from the moment he was conceived God had a plan for Jeremiah. He was to be a prophet to the nations. He was to tell people God’s Word, often stepping on their toes, and he was to say what God told him to say whether the people who listened to Jeremiah wanted to hear it or not. And almost immediately, Jeremiah balks.

“Ummm. God…first of all, I am not a good speaker. Secondly, I am too young…” You see, Jeremiah was a priest’s son. He had seen the life prophets had. He had been the preacher’s kid, and so he was making the excuses on why he could not do what he felt God calling him to do.


I know how he feels. Why would God call me? No matter how much I try and improve my voice, I am still going to sound like I grew up among a bunch of loggers and mill workers in Southern Oregon. I am fat and balding. There is no way I am going to have that glossy, full-head of hair like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, or David Jeremiah.

“Don’t say, ‘I am too young’” God replies in the middle of Jeremiah’s excuses, “you are going to say what I want you to say, you are going to go where I want you to go, and I am going to be with you” He actually says that he would rescue Jeremiah, which if I were Jeremiah I would start to have questions about what I am going to be rescued from.
God tells Jeremiah he is going to be used to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant. His words will be powerful Words. Hard words. God’s words.

God’s call comes to Jeremiah. It is not an easy call, but he has the courage to take it on. He embraces the call of God.

Now, with churches that have positions like a pastor, as ours does, or elders, or bishops, or deacons, it can be easy to think only some special ones of us are called by God. The rest of us, well, we are just along for the ride, trying to do what that strange creature called the “Pastor” tells us to do.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is that each and every one of us, as we began this summer discussing, has gifts from God, to be used in God’s service, to bring God glory.

Each and every one of us, Psalm 139 says, was knit together in our mother’s womb. Each and every one of us has been given skills, abilities, as well as gifts from God to serve Christ and his kingdom. Each of us has also been given opportunities, whether we feel gifted or not, to do our part to be a signpost for God, speaking his word, pointing with our lives like an arrow to heaven.


The book of Revelation calls us a kingdom of priests. Each with a unique call that God has given us, to be who he has made us to be. He calls each of us into small and large acts of obedience in service to his church and his kingdom. I challenge you: EMBRACE THAT CALL.
You know that person you have been avoiding, because you know if you say hi to them or drop by their home they will be talking with you for an hour about every ailment they have and every difficulty everyone around them is going through. You know God is leading you to visit with them, because you know they are lonely, and they need your attention and your Christian love. Obey that prompting of the Holy Spirit. EMBRACE THE CALL.
You have thought about going on a mission trip for years. Maybe to Haiti. Maybe somewhere else. You are nervous about travelling. You are afraid you are going to get sick. You wonder if the people you are going to work with will like you, or want to deal with you. You think maybe you are too old for such ventures. STOP with your EXCUSES. If God is leading you to go, EMBRACE THE CALL.


You work with this person who has gone through a lot in the last year. And because they have had to struggle with a lot, they are beginning to wonder if there is more to life than just working, eating, running errands, and going to sleep. You sense that they might be open to hearing about Jesus Christ, and how having a personal relationship with Christ can change their life for the better, adding hope and joy and purpose to their lives. You are nervous about sharing your faith. You are wondering if your friend would think you are a freak, or you worry that you will not find the right words when you need them. Put your excuses behind you. EMBRACE THE CALL.

You know what God is leading you to do. Writer Fredrich Buechner says ““The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” And for many of us I think that works. Have courage to do what God is leading you to do. EMBRACE THE CALL.

 I would say that if we follow the example of Jeremiah, sometimes our deep gladness plays a lesser role than the fact that we love God so much that we have to be obedient to him, happy or sad, and simply EMBRACE THE CALL, and trust that God will work through us.

God calls each of us to take on the role he has called us to play, and to be obedient to what he wants us to do. We have heard that, I hope, more than once, this summer.

But as believers, we are called first and foremost to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And so we come to this table. Some of us are joyful. Some heartbroken. And we recommit ourselves, not to a number of tasks, but simply to devotion to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As we read Jeremiah, it is God’s call that leads him, God’s strength that sustains him, God’s power that compels him to embrace his call. Everything is born out of a relationship with God.

The same is true of us. So let us come to this table, and let us take time with Jesus. Let us remember what he has done for us. Let us remember why he did it. And let us be renewed in our commitment to him. Then, as we go, mysteriously we will be empowered to EMBRACE THE CALL to serve the one we worship, adore, and love. Amen.




THE WRESTLER--a newspaper article

The Wrestler

One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Jacob. He is one of my favorite people in Scripture not because he always did the right thing, or because he was perfect, but because I can identify with him more closely than most Bible characters.
Jacob spent his life scrapping for everything he got. He was a twin with his brother Esau. While Esau came out of his mother Rachel’s womb first, Jacob was grabbing at his heel trying to get ahead of his brother on the day he was born.

Jacob was the youngest, so he had to fight harder to get ahead. And that is what he did. He tricked his bigger and stronger brother out of his greater share of his father’s inheritance. Then he stole his father’s blessing to carry on the family name and mission. After that his brother wanted to kill him, so he had to run.
He went to his mother’s homeland, and married two women. His father-in-law tricked him once, but with skillful animal husbandry he found a way to get ahead with him as well. He spent most of his life fighting for a blessing.

Then came the day when he had to meet his brother. After decades of being estranged, he was frightened and afraid. He sent his servants, wives, and kids ahead of him, in case his brother wanted to kill him. He made camp by the side of a brook. Still struggling. Still fighting for a blessing. Still longing for approval.

A stranger came to him in the night. They engaged in hand to hand combat. For hours upon hours they fought. All through the night. After a while, it became clear to Jacob that he was wrestling a supernatural being. Either an angel or God himself.

They wrestled until the sun was about to come up. The strange being said he had to go. Jacob asked the person’s name. He wouldn’t share it. Then Jacob said he would not let the being go without a blessing. He received the blessing, and then the being disappeared into thin air. Jacob believed he had wrestled with God, and won a blessing. He had an injury to his hip, he would walk with a limp, but he went forward in faith that God had blessed him.
My question is, why did Jacob wrestle God for a blessing he had received decades ago? And the answer is, because that is who Jacob was. Always fighting. Always wrestling. And God was willing to either send an angel or come in human form and wrestle with Jacob. And once again offer the blessing. Jacob was a fighter. He always had to fight for what he got. He got through life by sheer force of will. God understood that, and accepted and loved Jacob as he was.

I think there are a lot of us like Jacob. We start life just a little bit out of step, or feeling like we are a little bit behind everyone. And we feel like we have to catch up. Even when we encounter God and are blessed by Him, we have to keep fighting, keep wrestling, keep striving to get where we want to be. We are the underdog, always trying to win against impossible odds. We may have been blessed with a great family, enough money to get by on, a car that runs, and a roof over our heads. We still feel like we have fight and struggle with men and God for acceptance, approval, belonging, and even love.

Jacob’s story reminds people like us of two things. First, God loves us as we are, and meets us where we are at in our lives. Second, God wants to bless us. It is often us who want to strive and fight and battle for a blessing that we already have. Or, instead of surrendering our lives to God and receiving that blessing, we want to fight and battle for everything we get. We want to earn the approval of God and people, and God offers it for free. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

SERMON ON DOING JUSTICE PREACHED ON 8.11.13

DO JUSTICE
Text of this message is Isaiah 1


Most of you who know about my spiritual journey know a few things about me. One thing you may or may not have figured out at this point is that I am a both a committed Christian, and I am a recovering fundamentalist—or at least recovering from my fundamentalist upbringing.

I grew up in churches full of wonderful folks that loved Jesus and loved God’s Word. And for that, I will forever be thankful. I grew up going to camps with Bible quizzes and in Sunday School classes that emphasized and rewarded memorization of Scripture. This is a good thing.

The struggle that I had with churches that were more fundamentalist was two-fold. Strangely, both of these struggles were born out of the values that the church taught me in the first place, love of Scripture and love of Christ.


The first struggle I had as I grew both in my knowledge of Scripture and as I matured intellectually was that a lot of the things that the church I grew up in passed off as Christian doctrine were not as much doctrine as they were legalisms. Pastors would yell at kids who walked into church with earrings, but there were places I found in the Old Testament where men were commanded to have earrings. We were told that guys and gals should not swim together in modest swimming attire, but David danced in his undies through the palace complex of Saul—and Scripture seems to commend him for it. I was told that the Bible said that the King James Version is the only true translation of Scripture into the English language, when in fact a little bit of research and intellectual maturity blow that whole theory out of the water.


The second struggle I had was that although the church commended teaching the “whole counsel of God”, there were themes that pastors never shared about in their messages, and never taught about in their studies. One of those themes was God’s call to stand for justice for the oppressed, and to be compassionate toward those who were suffering and less fortunate. Sure, when we had people in our church who had a hard time, we would help them out. But, there was no dealing with all that Jesus and the prophets had to say about social justice and compassion for the poor and how that ties into a life of holiness.
It was not until I was a sophomore in college and taking a “Themes in Biblical History” course that encountered what the Scripture had to teach on such matters. Particularly through a book by a man named Ron Sider called, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”.
This passage we are looking at here is one of the many throughout Scripture that encourages the people of God to turn their attention toward those that are denigrated and forgotten, those that are ignored and denied a fair shake, those who are poor but denied mercy.  God says, through the prophet Isaiah, that if we pay attention to those who are mistreated and forgotten, and take up their cause, then he will support us and bless us. But if we neglect those folks, then there will be a price to pay.


The picture Isaiah paints is pretty vivid. They come to church. They are at all the special services. The people of God take all of their special offerings. They sing the right songs in perfect pitch. They observe everything correctly. And yet, as they lift up their hands in praise, there is blood on their hands. Not the blood of the sacrifices, it is implied, but the blood of their neighbors whom they have robbed, ignored, mistreated and neglected.
God says he is sick and tired of all of their worship services. They are all just a big show. The people of God have gotten the ritual, but missed the call of God that the ritual pointed them toward. And so God is present at their offerings, Isaiah says, but he has his face in his hands and is trying to put in his earplugs. Their worship was a joke. It was a joke because their lives and their actions didn’t match what they were professing with all of this religious show.



This message was not all that unusual. Amos called the wealthy church folks in his time “cows”. Micah calls people to “do justice, and love mercy”. Ezekiel points to Sodom and Gommorah’s ignorance of the poor, not their sexual indescretions to explain why the communities had fire and brimstone poured down upon them. Jesus referred to the Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs” because they were like the people of Isaiah’s day. They had the appearance of religiosity, but the evidence of actually loving God and loving neighbor in their life was lacking.


You see, we human beings have a tremendous ability to compensate for a lack of authentic, personal faith with ritual and rules. People will argue denominational polity for hours in service to their religious heritage, and then be rude to the person serving them the meal afterward. They will wear a cross that goes from their collar to their belt, and ignore their grandmother dying in a nursing home a few blocks away, begging for a visit. They will go to a church service and go to eat afterward, talk about the sermon and the music at the table, and then neglect to give the single mom with three kids to support a decent tip as they walk out the door of the restaurant.

And yet, at the same time, when faith is combined with love of neighbor that leads to action, amazing things happen, and God works. There can be no doubt that many of the advances of our society for equality and justice have been born in the church, and led by believers that obeyed God’s call to free the oppressed and have mercy on those everyone else ignores.

The abolitionist movement was spearheaded and led by persons of Christian conviction. If you want to see a perfect example of this, watch the movie Amazing Grace, which chronicles the story of William Wilberforce. He spent most of his life seeking to abolish slavery in England, because he was a Christian who believed that God was a God of justice for all people.


The women’s sufferage movement was, in the beginning, a Christian movement, advocating for the rights of women. It relied on the example of Jesus and teachings of Scripture as it called for American Christians to honor the voices and rights of women.



The civil rights movement was born in the church, and carried on by the church. And, although the leadership was dominated by the people who were oppressed because of their skin color, the movement was given credibility, power, and strength by white persons of priviledge who went to places like Alabama and Mississippi to fight for the rights of folks that were being denied basic equality because of the color of their skin.

Nearly every evangelist of days gone by partnered their evangelistic outreach with ministry to those who were less fortunate. St. Francis cleaned lepers wounds. Preachers like D.L. Moody and John Wesley founded and supported orphanages. The earliest Christians were known for adopting abandoned children and taking them in as their own. Doing justice and aiding the oppressed has been something many churches have done since the beginning.
And today, here in Hot Springs, we do many things to help and remember those in need. We have a spaghetti supper to help out folks with a meal. We have a clothes closet to help people with those needs. We are active in the ministerial association, which gives to others in need.  We try and make sure each child has a fair start in school in our community with our school supply and backpack drive. We also send medical missions to Haiti, so that people can, for at least a little bit, have some of their basic health care needs addressed. These are all good things.

Having said that, there is still much we can do.

When we hire somebody to do work for us, do we pay them a fair wage, or do we tend to pay them as little as we can get away with?

Do we spend our money where people treat their employees well, and pay them a living wage?

There is a business, based out of California, which has long committed to do just that. It is called In-and-out burger. It is a drive-through, like McDonalds. It charges a little bit more, and offers a high quality product. One of the reasons that it costs a little bit more is that the employees are paid a little bit better. Managers at an In and Out can make enough to live comfortably. Why do these people do this? Out of Christian conviction. Doubt me? Visit one sometime and look for the Bible verses on the wrappers and boxes they serve their food with. It is a good witness. There are folks I know that live in that area. They admire their stand for their employees, and they know why they do it. They community is blessed by Christians who do justice, and help the oppressed.

What companies do you buy your products from? To they treat their employees right?

Do you stand up for people when they are being treated poorly by others?

There is a television show called “What Would You Do?” The whole premise of this show is putting people in situations where they have an opportunity to act to support others when they are being treated unjustly. In a store, a restaurant, on the street etc.

Are you aware of how our economic policies make it nearly impossible for peasants in other countries to earn a living wage?

Are you aware of how many people are being sexually trafficked in America and overseas? Or how big of a problem prostitution is in the Dakotas? Especially during rally time and hunting season? Do you say or do anything about it?

Are you aware that our neighboring county is either one of the poorest or the poorest in the nation nearly every year? Does that concern you? Do you think it breaks the heart of God?

Are you aware of how long it is taking our government to provide care to soldiers it was promised to?

Do you think that is right?

Have you seen racial prejudice at work around you? Do you speak out against it? Do you stand up for those who are mistreated because of the color of their skin, or where their family comes from? Why not?

There are a number of ways we can look out for the widow and orphan. That we can stand up for the oppressed. That we can do justice for those who are mistreated, and show compassion for our neighbors that have been hit hard by life and circumstances. And we can repent for the injustices we have stood for and perpetuated, been the beneficiaries of and been silent about.

And when we do that, God promises his forgiveness and grace to be active among us. Though our sins were like scarlet, they will be white as snow it says. God’s grace is promised to be active in our lives. It will also flow through us. As we stand up, and do justice, in the name of Jesus. Amen.


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

HOSPITAL FOR SINNERS SERMON--LABOR DAY 2013

THE TEXT WAS LUKE 14:1-14

Situations like this were not an uncommon occurrence in my upbringing:

The church ladies were serving up the dishes at the potluck. I got to the section that had potato salad and I pulled my plate back. “You don’t want any potato salad?” Mrs. Irwin asks.

“No, I hate potato salad. Blahh,” I responded.

It was at this point I would feel a firm hand on my shoulder, or a quick tap on the back of my head. “Son….MANNNERS”

“No thank you, Mrs. Irwin. I need to save room for your yummy chicken casserole,” I would respond.

“I am sorry,” my mom would say, “you try and teach them but….”

“I completely understand,” Mrs. Irwin would say, “I raised four of my own.”


Table manners. Keep your elbows off the table. Chew with mouth closed. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Ask to be excused from the table. Eat what you are served. Ask for someone to pass the food, don’t lunge across the table to get it. At least not in polite company.

Table manners were a little more lax when it came to Thanksgiving dinners in Alaska in high school. Someone would pray for the meal. At that point, one of the few meals that were prayed over. Perhaps everyone would share something they are thankful for. Then there was an announcement, usually from my uncle, which said something like this, “Get while the getting is good, because in this family we wait for one another like one pig waits for another.”

At this point people angled and made strategic alliances to get the food that they wanted in the order that they wanted it. Rarely was there a shortfall of food on holidays. There was usually at least a week’s worth of leftovers. But there was still was an ethic to suspend proper table manners for the first part of the meal in an attempt to make an aggressive move toward the grub you wanted. In the process there was lots of joy, laughter, and light-hearted teasing as we all ate.

 

Around that period of time, there is a story about a lack of table manners that is still in dispute to this day. It has to do with eating moose steak. It was a particularly good piece of meat as I remember, and I am not usually a steak guy. They had been cut into little strips and flavored. I had grabbed the last piece of meat before my cousin Casey. I was taunting him. Taking little bites of this strip of steak, moaning, talking about how good it was. So my Aunt Tammy came up behind me, grabbed my fork, pulled the remainder of the meat away from me (half of it was in my mouth), and ate herself. She denies this ever happened. I maintain that it did happen.

And when I got older, and was a youth pastor, I discovered a different kind of table manners among middle school teens. The girls, in some strange cooperative venture that I still have yet to understand, would unpack their lunches, with gobs of good food, and then share the food in some cooperative venture. Easily sharing with friends, freely grabbing a bite from a friend’s plate.


The boys on the other hand, created a little fortress around their food with their arms. They had to protect their meal from interlopers. Because if someone saw something they liked, they may dive in and grab a friends food without asking and eat it before they could do something. It was very primal.

Every culture has table manners. The table manners are not arbitrary. They are “relationship rules”, designed to help facilitate positive relationships and good feelings among those gathered around the table. They are also designed to create boundaries for behavior among the people who are gathered around the table, and those who are not. There are a lot of rules and traditions about the table.

In the parable we read, Jesus is invited to the home of a prominent Pharisee for a meal. This was a meal full of both religious and political import. The Pharisees were the religious rulers of Israel, spearheading a moral reform movement among the people. They tended to focus on following all the rules, and following their rules instead of focusing on loving relationships with God and others, however, and this put them in a conflict with Jesus.



At one point, Jesus begins to teach the people at the table. His teaching challenges and confronts them and the prejudices.

The first teaching has to do with their seating arrangements. He was noticing how the guests at the meal were jockeying for position with one another so that they could sit in the place of highest honor.


He reminds them of the ancient teaching, the teaching that goes back even to the book of Proverbs. He does so by telling a thinly veiled parable of attending a wedding feast. In The time of coming to the table is a time to be humble. Don’t jockey for position, trying to take the place of honor. That could really get you in trouble. Because if you start taking a seat of honor, you might be asked by the usher to move to the back. And you will be drug back to the cheap seats in front of everyone. Instead, take a position of humility, in the back. Then if someone thinks you need to be in a position of greater honor, you will be brought up to that position in front of everyone. Then people will understand that you are both humble and honorable. Jesus then says the key point: Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

After he tells this story, Jesus launches into a teaching that builds upon what he has just said, this time from the perspective of the host of the party. He says when you throw a party, don’t just invite the folks that can do things for you, or people that are a part of the well-respected cool crowd. Instead, invite those folks that nobody included at that time to a fancy party. The poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame. The folks who can’t repay your invitation to your party to a party at their place…because they cannot afford a party at all. Invite the folks that are otherwise rejected, lonely, pushed aside, neglected. Invite those folks to your party that nobody else can put up with, that nobody else wants to love or deal with. That is what God wants you to do.


Jesus said earlier in Luke’s gospel, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32). He says that he has come to seek and save the lost (Luke 15). In this passage and others it is clear, Jesus intends to create a church that is a hospital for sinners, not a monument for the saints.

You see, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had many of their moral ideas right. But they had a tin man’s faith. Jesus was saying to them, “If you only had a heart, Pharisees, you would see that the gospel is about justice and compassion. Even more it is about redemption and renewal. It is about setting right the broken things in the world. It is about healing the broken. It is about helping sinners find faith and hope, life and love.

The Pharisees of that day forgot what we often forget as well. That the church is not simply a monument to the saints, or a place for good people to do good things. The church is a place where people who desperately need the life-changing, life-transforming healing power of Jesus can participate in the way of Jesus and find their life is renewed, transformed and changed by God’s grace.


There was a title of a book that I loved a few years back. It was a book about the church, and ideas about leading churches and leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. The book was called NO PERFECT PEOPLE ALLOWED and then the subheading in small letters said, “all others welcome”.

I have often dreamed of having that on a banner on the front of a church I lead: NO PERFECT PEOPLE ALLOWED: all others welcome. I would love to have this is NEON or something because it tells what the mission of the church is, a mission that we as church members and participants often forget.
The church is not about perfect people huddling up in order to hide from the rest of the world. The church is about being in the world to heal the world. Especially to heal the world from its sin-sickness, its lonliness, its aimlessness, its lostness.

This week, as we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I have a dream sermon, and it was a sermon, I think of a similar dream for God’s church. That God’s church would have open doors to addicts and refugees, the disabled and the disenfranchised, those that don’t seem to dress the right way, or smell the right way, or who don’t know what the ‘churchy’ thing to say is at the right time.

The church is not for people who think they have everything together and don’t have any struggles. The church is for people like you and I that sin and we know it. We need Jesus. We need Jesus in our lives to help us to stop being greedy and selfish, to stop from being bitter and mean. We need to be transformed. Because if we are left as we are, we are sunk.



And so we come here today, seeking hope. Seeking knowledge. Seeking support. Seeking to know that we are not alone in this world, with just us and our sin, but that God is with us. Restoring us. Reviving us. Redeeming us.
The table manners of the kingdom is that all are welcome, and none should be denied. The table manners of the kingdom tell us that we should not seek to be served but to serve. The call of the kingdom tells us that we are not supposed to build an institution by human standards, but that we are to be a part of the movement of the Holy Spirit that takes this old, broken world and makes it into a new world.

And, in the process, we are to acknowledge that we are among those who need to be rescued from sin. We are among those who need to be made whole by the savior. We are among those who need God to make us into a new creation. That it is not just them that need a redeemer, but it is me, Clint Walker, and you as well.


So won’t you come to Jesus today. Won’t you name yourself among the imperfect? Won’t you be made new? And won’t you join the church proclaiming to the world that this church, UNITED CHURCHES, is a healing place for wonderful imperfect folks like yourselves. I hope you will.