I took a week off from preaching, but not from our sermon series. Last week the passage in the Sermon on the Mount was the “ask, seek, knock” and “the golden rule” – which was not at all planned, but timed perfectly with our annual Homeless Awareness Weekend. It was always our tradition to have one or two kids stand up and share their experiences, but last year I actually made every single one of our participants stand up and share something that they had prepared either the night before or that morning. They did SO well that we did it again this year and I opted not to preach at all. There definitely is a part of me that doesn’t like to “give up” my sermon time, but honestly – it was necessary this year. The reflections were SO GOOD and said a thousand things that I never could have. The adults were reflecting on what the kids said all week – I told the confirmands on Sunday this week that they should be proud.
So here we are – one wee away from finishing this sermon series! I have always loved the end of the sermon on the mount, because you can tell Jesus is getting excited to finish talking so they can hit the ground running. The funny thing is that even though I didn’t preach last week, I kind of got my reflections on Homeless Awareness in this weekend! I guess it’s hard for me to actually let it go completely – ha!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
November 17, 2019
Live Faithfully Now
I have been on something of a pastor’s high these past two weeks.
It started with the bazaar; not only did we raise over $17,000, but everyone was able to jump in and do their part. Someone told me this week that the bazaar just felt magical this year and I think many of us share that same sentiment; we were not only able to raise money for the church, but we also came together as a community, strengthening our own relationships with one another and then were able to really extend a hand of hospitality to the community.
And then we did a quick 180° and turned our attention towards Homeless Awareness Weekend, which was so incredible and inspiring and eye-opening and filled with God’s love that I am having a hard time putting to words just how much it meant to me this year.
Oh – and our kids raised $6,500; which, to quote Steve Brasier – “Wow.”
And then on Sunday night, we got home from dinner and Bruce asked if I could get Harrison some milk. I opened up the fridge and had to stare at it for a good 20 seconds before I realized what had happened.
An unopened half gallon of milk had gotten pushed too close to the part of the fridge where the cold air comes out and a few packages of tortilla wraps had gotten thrown on top, causing – we think – the cold air to blow more than usual, which then caused the milk to freeze, which then caused the glass bottle that it was in to break.
And there was milk everywhere.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I had to take every single thing out of the refrigerator and then take all of the drawers and the shelves apart to clean it up. At one point during the process one of the drawers got knocked off the counter and so then all the milk that was in it was on the floor (along with all of the produce). It took about an hour and half, at which point I realized we had no milk to give Harrison in the morning; which is how I found myself running into Walmart at 10:45, 15 minutes before they close, saying to the greeter as I blitzed by, “I just need milk!”
The surprising part about this whole thing is that I did not cry once; which was quite the feat, given the fact that it had been a long weekend, it was late, I was exhausted and I’m pregnant, so I cry more often than I usually do.
But, given what had happened during Homeless Awareness Weekend, and still thinking about the poignant reflections the youth offered in worship that morning, I just kept thinking, “But I have the money to buy more milk. I have a car that I can use to drive to go buy more milk at 10:45 at night.”
I can confidently say – and I am fairly certain Bruce would agree with this – that if this had happened at the conclusion of any other weekend, I would have completely lost my mind. But there was something about coming off of Homeless Awareness Weekend that gave me a perspective I did not necessarily have, even a week ago.
I think others felt this sense of perspective as well, based on conversations I had in the office this week, with our bible study group on Tuesday morning and even in our church community Facebook group. And while I am thrilled that Homeless Awareness had such a powerful impact on everyone this year, there is a part of me that is a little bit fearful that, over time, we are going to lose that perspective and that passion to really put the Gospel into action and make a difference in our community.
My prayer this week has been that I don’t – that we don’t – lose the spark that was ignited within us last weekend. My prayer has been that this awareness of hunger and homelessness – of the ways that we can serve our brothers and sisters, of the ways that we can educate others and of our own privilege in the middle of all of it – remains at the forefront of our faith and our ministry. My prayer has been that this sense of urgency does not dissipate.
There is a sense of urgency in the passage of scripture we just heard that is similar to the one I am feeling following Homeless Awareness Weekend this year. Jesus is nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount; he and the disciples are about to hit the ground running and proclaim this message of love and redemption to a world that so desperately needs to hear it. And so in these words about the narrow gate and a tree and its fruit, Jesus is trying to convey to the disciples just how important the work is that they are about to do.
I would argue that the same is true today; that, now more than ever, it is crucial that we live faithfully in this moment, not only staying truthful to Jesus’ teachings, but also being intentional and directed about how we live our lives.
There are three points I think Jesus makes in this passage that are so relevant to the world we are living in and the ministry God is boldly calling us into. I want to talk about them today, first in relation to how I am still processing last weekend, but also as I am preparing for the Advent and Christmas seasons and then the new year that is on the horizon.
The first point has to do with the fact that discipleship is a journey. Jesus says that we are supposed to enter the narrow gate, the gate that leads to a harder road. Jesus does not say that when you enter the narrow gate, you will arrive at your destination, because that is not how faith works. It is a journey that we take throughout our entire lives, as we weave in and out of the different circumstances that may come our way. We will never reach a point where we will have all the answers; growth is always possible.
This is important for the disciples to hear, because this new mission Jesus is deploying them on is not one of black and white rules that clearly define how we should live our lives. Grace does not work like that. And so as Jesus begins to wrap up this sermon so they can hit the road, he needs the disciples to understand that it truly is going to be a journey.
As we read these words today, it is equally important for us all to remember that it does not matter what brought us to this point or when in life that happened, but that, from here on out, we are all on a journey together, called to live out and proclaim the Gospel.
That was kind of the cool part about Homeless Awareness Weekend – everyone was able to get involved. Young, old and in between; longtime members and those who are new to the community; people with a pretty good set of answers and those who have a whole lot of questions. Together we entered the narrow gate and traveled a hard road.
The second point Jesus makes here is that following him is going to be demanding.
Now, our youth and field chaperones can tell you that sometimes demanding looks like sleeping in a cardboard box when it is 17° degrees outside. But I think demanding goes beyond even physical demands – sometimes the demands are mental, emotional, spiritual even. There are moments in our discipleship journeys where we will feel like we are being pushed to our breaking point, where the road seems too hard to travel.
But, Jesus says, we have to journey forward; because the road that is hard is the road that leads to life.
And so it’s a commitment, right? It’s not just about coming to church and getting involved, but about committing to something that is hard; something that is very often counter to the expectations of the society we are living in. There is a vulnerability in walking through that narrow gate, one that Jesus, himself, acknowledges, and yet still calls us to do, anyway.
The final point Jesus makes is that we have to be vigilant on this journey.
The second part of this passage is about a tree and its fruits, calling out false prophets who will try to sway us in a different direction.
Of course, false prophets look different today than, perhaps, they did 2,000 years ago. But I still think there is a courageous truth to what Jesus is saying here. I noticed it twice last weekend, the first time when our panhandlers were approached by a gentleman at the transfer station who told them that homelessness was not a problem in Rehoboth and the second time when our panhandlers on the corner of 44 and 118 had a few drivers gesture inappropriately at them. The reason I bring this is because, in those moments, it is easy to retreat to a safe place and just wait for it to be over. But in both of those moments, our members were vigilant on this journey, leaning into the discomfort of the demands of our faith, offering a contrary explanation about homeless to this man and then prophetically calling us in worship to pray for those who were rude to our panhandlers.
This is exactly what Jesus is talking about here. He is asking us to call out bad behavior, revealing individual’s true colors, spirits and intentions. He is asking us to say no to the systems and the individuals that threaten the power of God’s love and the message of the Gospel.
This is not easy; very often it requires us to step outside of our comfort zones and not follow the status quo.
But again, the narrow gate is not the one that leads to the easy road; but it is the one that leads to the road that will bring us to new life.
I think Jesus’ message here is that we have to be intentional about our faith; that it is not a destination that we passively arrive to, but a journey that we have to work hard to travel. And I would argue that the sense of urgency that was present as Jesus spoke these words is just as strong today as it was then. The world is broken and it needs to hear the Good News. The world is broken and it needs to feel the Good News. The world is broken and it needs to see the Good News lived out in real and tangible and life-changing ways.
As we enter these Advent and Christmas seasons, set goals for the new year and prepare to receive new star words in January, I charge you all to live faithfully now.
The journey may not always be an easy one; we may feel vulnerable and pushed to our breaking point at times. But Jesus promises us new life on this journey. And this new life will bring hope and healing to our world.
May the spark that was ignited within us continue to burn as we enter the narrow gate and follow the road that is hard; but along this road may we proclaim the Gospel to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.
Thanks be to God!