September 11, 2016

Sermon by The Reverend Jodi L. Baron, 17th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, Luke 15:1-10

“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the anniversary of 9-11-2001.
For many of us, it is a day that is etched into our memory from the shock and wave of fear and sadness that ensued in the aftermath of this horrific attack on our sense of security. Some folks were even more close to the actual events and either survived the terror or lost loved ones on that fateful day.
I wasn’t going to talk about 9/11 today, I rather dreaded the fact that my turn to preach was landing on such a horrific anniversary. But as I read and re-read this morning’s lessons, I kept asking what in the world does the Gospel have to speak to our people, at this time, in this place, with these words?
And then I listened again to a sermon my good friend, David Peters, gave last year at Trinity Wallstreet. Maybe you saw it float around in cyberspace this morning.
My friend is an Iraq war veteran, an Army Chaplain, and an Episcopal Priest.
He has devoted his career to ministering to the veterans of our United States Armed Forces. He founded an organization within the Episcopal Church that helps Veterans navigate the waters of post-war and the moral wounds of combat.
Now, I am certainly no expert in war, nor the effects war has on the men and women we ask to protect our circles of society, but maybe you are like me…. Maybe you aren’t really sure how to think theologically about war. Maybe you are like me… and have a hard time reconciling our job as Christians and a response to and acts of terrorism like 911. I think a lot of us feel like I do when it comes to reflecting on our place as Christians in a world that is filled with the reality of wars all around us.
And so, like many Christians, I find myself asking God to speak to this and help me find the way through my muddled conflicting feelings of knowing the reality of war and not ever, ever, ever wanting to see one our children go off to fight in one.
War is ugly, it is learned, it is painful.
But God’s message of hope and reconciliation is even more powerful, even more
I haven’t figured out how to reconcile that dilemma yet, but I’m convinced that we can find hope and healing in finding the courage to ask the question about where God is in all of this.
There’s a great quote from a speech that President Roosevelt gave called “The Man In The Arena.” It is the guidepost for one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read called Daring Greatly.
He said:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Being a Christian in today’s climate means a lot of things to a lot of different people.
But being a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth has been passed down to us from generation to generation through the words our savior taught us in The Lord’s Prayer. That little prayer we say every week before we come to God’s table. Say it with me,
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
Jesus was the man who was in the arena, marred by the dust and sweat and blood of humans failing to see the dreams God has for his creation.
The dreams of reconciliation and of peace that passes understanding.
The dreams for where the lion to lay down with the lamb and for gentiles and jews, slaves and free, men, women, children of every tribe in every nation will break bread together and know the love that runs so deep within creation that it can not stay silent, even the rocks declare the Glory of God.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is in a setting, once again, where he is inviting us to consider who God rejoices in finding. He is attracting, more and more, the folks to whom the elite of his time are taught to stay away from.
The “tax collectors and sinners” are hearing this message of God’s kingdom coming and they can’t stay away because Jesus is speaking their language. He’s in the arena with them and is speaking truth to those who are trying to push them out, squash them and exclude them every chance they get. Not because they’re bad humans or un-inlightened neanderthals, but because he wants them to hear too, the invitation to join the heavenly party. The celebration that has been going on since the beginning of creation and will go on forever and ever.
He is constantly, throughout this gospel, raising the cost of discipleship for all those who dare to listen.
When you throw a party, he says,…invite only those who cannot repay you.
When you share a meal with someone, he says, you are saying they are a no longer stranger but that they belong here.
Jesus is showing the way, clearer and clearer of Radical Hospitality.
How to welcome until it hurts.
To forgive until you forget.
To dine together until you can’t tell who’s serving and who’s eating because there is such a marriage of love and grace and hospitality that the line between stranger and friend is unrecognizable to the onlookers.
It’s been said that this table,
God’s table on earth,
is a reflection of the heavenly party where everyone, tax collectors and sinners, Pharisees and lawyers, you and me and the one sitting behind you, and the ones you meet out there in Beulah or Frankfort, Thompsonville and Traverse City…everyone is invited to this party.
When we practice radical hospitality, unwavering inclusivity…we are embodying the heavenly celebration that is already going on!
Did you catch that?
Jesus has been honing in, smaller and smaller and smaller, about who God gets excited about when they are folded in, returned back, reconciled to his loving embrace once again.
First it was the 1 sheep out of 100, then it was the 1 coin out of 10, next up will be the 1 brother out of 2, until no one is out of the picture of God’s grace.
No one. Not one.
God will never stop searching, never stop calling, never stop bringing us in closer and closer and closer until we, like Jesus, are covered in the dust and sweat and blood of his love and we can dare to live according to this good news.
This sermon started out recognizing the memory of 9/11 and the realities of war all around us.. but I didn’t stay there because I’m still working it out. My feelings about war and peace are messy and at times conflicting. The words coming to us from all around don’t help either. Everywhere we turn people are wanting to build walls and make it more difficult for the stranger to become friend. And then I read today’s gospel and hear this radical, counter-cultural invitation to eat with folks the authorities tell us to push away. To welcome the folks that they tell us threaten our sense of safety and peace. To not question the ethics or morals of where we spend our money or what companies we do business with.
But the invitation from Jesus is to join him in the arena. To dare to have the courage to believe and act as though God’s dream for us can and is true. That we can be open and vulnerable to each other because we are called to be reconciled to each other and to our God.
We are invited to come to this table and then to go in peace to love and serve the Lord. We are commissioned through our baptism to love and respect the dignity of every human being.
So we have to keep searching, keep asking, keep wrestling with what it means to be a follower of Jesus in today’s world, on the anniversary of 9/11, at the end of a beautiful summer in northern michigan.
Join me in finding out who’s missing from our pews, who’s voice is missing from our leadership, who’s presence is missing from our table?