Saturday, July 2, 2016

Year C, Proper 9, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, July 4th

Paul writes in Ephesians 2:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. . . So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, . . .

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

These are the word’s from Emma Lazarus’ famous poem, “The New Colossus” which are engraved on the Statue of Liberty.
They expressed the welcome that our Nation,

From its founding, gave to the immigrant.
Notice what those words do not say:
They do not say, “give me your best”
Your brightest,
Your most desirable and successful
And from this “cream of the crop” I will make a great nation.

It doesn’t say that.

Your tired.
Your poor.
Your huddled masses.
The wretched refuse.
The homeless.
The tempest tost.

Send these to me.

One of Donald Trump’s most famous quotes from this last year is:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with (them). They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

We are a nation of immigrants.
At one time we were all “huddled masses yearning to be free.”

But how quickly we forget
That we once were “far off”, the outcast,
Who came to this country, seeking opportunity and hope, precisely because that is what we lacked.

Europe did not send its best who didn’t have any problems.

We tend to idealize the first immigrants to this country.
We think about the super religious Pilgrims,
Who came to create a great Christian nation.

That’s not really the whole picture.

I served my internship in St. Paul, MN at First Lutheran Church.
It was the oldest Lutheran Church in Minnesota,
Founded by Swedish immigrants.

We had a member, Gerhard Alexis by name, who loved to research the archives of the congregation and learn about these early immigrants.  He unearthed one incredibly interesting fact about those early years as wave after wave of immigrants from Sweden arrived in St. Paul.  Buried in the minutes of the congregation was the record that First Lutheran Church used to employ four off duty police officers, every Sunday morning, to break up the fist fights that routinely broke out on the Church grounds, on the steps to the Church.

You heard that right.
It took four police officers to keep these Swedish immigrants, these Lutherans, in line.

Can you imagine having to have four police officers here?

Apparently, Sweden didn’t send its best either.

Give me the “wretched refuse of your teaming shore”.

When Jesus sent out his disciples to gather the harvest, and announce the coming of the Kingdom of God, it was not to the righteous, the religious elite that Jesus sent his disciples. Rather it was to those who genuinely needed a savior.

We come, totally dependent on the grace of God, that welcomes the outcast, the sinner, the downtrodden,
And then, as recipients of this incredible grace of God, we quickly forget.

We forget that we once were lost, saved only by the grace of God offered unconditionally to us.

Instead, rather than remember that what we have is a pure gift of grace, we consider ourselves to be privileged.
The chosen ones
The insiders
The worthy.

We turn God’s grace, into our own privilege.
We turn God’s grace, into our own privilege.

And those on the outside, well, they are the undesirable, the lost and condemned. Not really good “church folk”.  And we struggle to welcome them.  It’s even harder to go out of our way to reach them.

We forget that we once were “Aliens”.

There are constant reminders of who we were,
Where we’ve come from,
And that we are all dependent on God’s grace.

Paul writes to the Ephesians and calls on them to remember who they were.  They were the uncircumcised, the outsiders, the ones that were not welcomed by the first Christians who were Jewish.  As Gentiles they were of the wrong race.  As Gentiles they had not obeyed the law.  They had not met the requirement of circumcision.

And yet, by the Grace of God,
Those who once were far off, have been brought near, by the blood of Christ.

God’s grace seeks out the lost.
And welcomes them in.
Welcomes US in.

This reminder didn’t stop with the Gentiles,
The new converts to Christianity.

God also reminds the Jews from whence they came.

Remember that you were slaves,
That I set you free.
Remember that you once wandered homeless,
And I gave you this land to call your own.

God says,
That Jesus “came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near”.

Remember that you received God’s grace freely, not because you deserved it, but purely for the sake of the Love that God showed to you in Jesus Christ.

Who is welcome here?

Who is welcome?

I was delighted to see that you have a purpose statement that you recite at the conclusion of each worship service.
God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love and serve all in our local and global community.

I would be absolutely delighted to find out that you truly believed that and lived it out as a congregation.

Much of the time, we are simply liars when we answer that question.
Churches want to say: “All are welcome!”  When actually, the reality is that “Some are welcome. And some are not welcome.”  The unwritten rule by which we live is that some are welcome, some are not.

I once told my church council, that if we were really truthful, we wouldn’t put “All are welcome” on our signs. We’d put instead: “Some are welcome, inquire within.”
But those are our rules, not God’s.

God continually reminds us, that once “we were far off, but now have been brought near.”

In our Gospel reading Jesus sent the disciples on ahead to proclaim the Good News that the kingdom of God has come near. “Peace to this house!” they were to say.

But to whom were they sent?
To whom are we sent?

What Jesus told his disciples was to proclaim to simplest message of Peace, and if they received the peace, great, if not, just go your way.

Do you think that when the disciples went out on their journey, that they sought out only the brightest and best, the good “church folk” if you will?

Or was their mission to the tired, the poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore?

Actually, the answer is both.
They went to the good “church folk”,
And to those who knew nothing of church.
They went to the insiders,
And to those who seem forever to be on the outside.

But whether we’ve been here since the beginning,
Or seem so totally unlikely to be here at all –

We have this one thing in common,
That we are here because Jesus cared enough for us
To welcome us, regardless of our background.

And as he welcomed us, who once were “far off”,
He continues to welcome those whom we consider to be “far off”.

What makes us most uncomfortable, though,
Is that we are called, as the Body of Christ, to be the voice of Christ calling out to the lost, and welcoming them into the fold.

And like a shepherd that leaves the ninety nine sheep behind, and goes out to seek the one lost sheep, so we are called to take the risk of reaching out to those who are still, “far off”, that they might be brought near.

I have a challenge for you as a congregation.  Consider who it is, that would be most difficult to welcome into your midst.

Who is it that seems “farthest off”?
Who is it that makes you feel most uncomfortable?

And then consider this:
That those are the people that you are very specifically called to seek out and to welcome, for they are the ones who most need to hear the Gospel.

They are the ones to whom Jesus is sending you to bring that message of “Peace” and the Kingdom of God.  In fact, it’s the very thing that makes us feel uncomfortable welcoming them, that is the very reason they so desperately need to hear the Gospel in the first place.


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