Sermon – God in the Unexpected – 1 Kings 17:8-24

Just last week, I was speaking with one of my professors at Seminary.  Our conversation led to the topic of hunting for God.  Seeking to find God’s presence and activity here, in our everyday lives.  Looking for moments where the curtain is pulled back and God is revealed right in front of you.

My wife, Lauren, and I call it finding God through goose bumps. We both agree that we have always felt that there was something about those goose bump moments that is holy and divine.  Whether it is an intimate moment with a friend, a cool breeze on a night time walk, or even a moment of fear, the goose bumps always focuses us into the present moment. It is as if God whispering, “This moment is important, pay attention.  Be present to it.”

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Well, there was an event this past Spring that still gives me goose bumps.  It was an event where one woman stunned Britain, America, and the entire world.  Susan Boyle.  Do you all remember Susan Boyle? Have you heard of her?  She wowed the world and lit up the internet after her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables on the television series Britain’s Got Talent.  Her voice was stunning, her performance was immaculate, and her appearance….well, that’s just the thing.  Her appearance was neither.  It was not stunning; it was not immaculate.  It was awkward; it was disheveled; it was scattered.

Boyle, an ordinary 47 year-old Scottish woman was against all odds the moment she walked out on stage to sing.  Based on her appearance, expectations were low and everyone knew it.  The audience rolled their eyes.  The judges snickered and were sarcastic.  But then she started to sing and the whole world sort of shook on its axis.  Jaws dropped; eyes widened.  At that moment, everything we thought we knew, everything we expected to happen, melted away.  This woman, Susan Boyle, should have failed.  She should have offered us a mediocre and karaoked version of an otherwise beautiful song.  But that didn’t happen.  Not even close.  Instead she delivered a jaw-dropping performance, revealing a voice we assumed she could never have and essentially breaking the rules on how we understand the world to work.  Just for that moment, all the rules were broken.  Susan Boyle, of all people, had the world as her audience and it changed her life.  That still gives me goose bumps.

Well, I think this is what happens in our Old Testament text.  The rules are broken and God shows in the unexpected.

Our story for today comes from the Book of First Kings.  First Kings shares the story of how many kings of Israel found their way to the throne.  And right in the middle of this book, we encounter a new prophet, named Elijah.  Our text today picks it up when God has told Elijah to go to Zarephath, where the Lord has commanded a widow to feed him.  So Elijah goes to this place and tells this woman to bring him some water to drink and bread to eat.  And the woman replies, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug and death is knocking on my door.”  Things are not looking good.  This woman makes it clear that this is not her God , for she is not one who worships the God of Israel, but one worships a pagan storm God, named Ba’al. And not only is she a woman who does not believe in the God of Israel, but she is a widow with very little meal and very little oil.  She is among the poorest of her community, a community already ravaged by a drought.

Yet, God chose her, the poorest of the poor, to provide for and sustain this prophet, this man of God.  A non-believing widow in a land with no food or drink, who is ready to curl up and die.  Things are not looking good; we know how this story will end.  The rules of the world tell us that things will go exactly as she said.  The rules of the world say that a woman in her situation will die, curled up and hungry.  But that is not what happens.  Not even close. Instead, as the widow hesitantly goes and does what Elijah said she finds that her jar of meal and her jug of oil have been filled to the brim.  The least expected person, whom we knew could never provide for Elijah, is suddenly the perfect person for the task.  The text says, “And they all were able to eat for many days.”  Everything we thought we knew was wrong; all the rules were broken.

And so I am left with goose bumps after reading this story.  Because who would have thought that in this moment God would call upon this woman.  This woman who does not believe in God.  This woman who is the poorest of them all and ready to die.  Who would have thought?

Now, I have to ask.  Does this story sound familiar at all to anyone?  A story about drought and resources drying up.  A story about fear and death knocking at the door.  Isn’t this Augustana’s story?  Isn’t this what Augustana has been going through the past year, if not longer.  Fear that the money is drying up?  Rumors that the church might be closing soon?  If this is true, if this is our story, then perhaps just as God does with the widow, perhaps God is calling this congregation to do God’s work.  To provide for God’s people.  To reach down deep into our jars, into our deepest desires and to give of ourselves.

And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.  We have been reaching down deep into the resources of Augustana, Looking for what’s at the core of this church.  And if I may say so myself, I think we’ve found that our jars are quite full.  That it is not death knocking at the door, but God.  God is at the door inviting us to use the resources that we still have.   Inviting us to strengthen our relationship with Augustana Care Center and to serve that community more fully.  Inviting us to reclaim Community Emergency Services, our food shelf, and serve the people of Elliot Park and Phillips neighborhood.  Inviting us to partner with one of our own church members to start a community building and community empowering bike shop.  God uses the unexpected ones to provide for God’s people.  This is Augustana’s story.

And it is not only a story of our community, it is a story for us as individuals.  You may be a member of this congregation.  You may simply be passing through as a visitor, or you may be looking for a church home.  But I believe that this is our story as individuals as well and that the message is the same: God will use you.  Whether you are the richest king or the poorest widow, God will use you.  God’s calls upon you.  Not someone younger or older.  Not someone with more money.  Not someone with more training.  You.

So what’s your deepest desire?  So what gives you life, what fills up your jars?  And how might God be calling you to give out of your deepest desire?  When Susan Boyle walked out on that stage, she took the light of God that was deep within her and she stopped hiding it under a bushel. That same light of God resides within you, and it shines brightest, as Fredrick Buechner says, “where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”  So what’s your deep gladness?!

What’s amazing, I think, is that when you do that, not only do you find that you yourself are filled with new life, but others around you are inspired to give of themselves as well.  It’s contagious!  I mean, look at the rest of our story.  This widow gives the last of her meal and oil to the prophet, Elijah.   And when her son gets ill and dies, Elijah is moved to plead before God on the widow’s behalf.  He stretches himself across the son three times and cries, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.”  And life came back into the boy.  The widow never knew that when she fed Elijah the last of her food, she was saving the life of the man who would save her son.  When you give out of your deepest desire, you inspire those around you to do the same.  Imagine what that could mean for our families, for our congregation, for the world.  Each person opening themselves up to God’s use.

Now, this may be an older and small congregation with limited resources. You may think you are the least likely person for God to call upon, but God is at work breaking all of the rules, calling upon the least likely and the unexpected.  So keep your eye out for God, for those goose bump moments where God might be calling.  Because God is not through with this congregation and God is not through you.  In fact, God will never be through with you.  AMEN

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Sermon – The Desperate and Beloved Rich Man – Mark 10:17-31

Our gospel text for today is one of the classics.  One that I imagine that many of you have heard time and time again.  Much like the text last week and the weeks before, the words of Jesus do not rest easy.  So often, we hear this text as simply being about those who hoard their money and possessions, selfishly keeping them to themselves.  And how Jesus clearly states that it is nearly impossible for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of God, therefore those who are wealthy ought to share more so as to not fall into this category of the rich.  Now, I am not saying that there are not those elements in the text.  God does care about what we do with our money.  But what I am wondering is if there isn’t something more in text than simply a rich man hoarding his things.  And I imagine that if we are willing to face the text head on, explore it, and mine it for what its worth together, we might stumble upon something deeper within this story.

Right from the beginning, “As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to him and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  A journey to where?  All we know is that he is out on some road.  Where is Jesus going?  I mean in all of Mark’s previous stories we are always told where Jesus is headed.  He starts out in Galilee calling his disciples then he goes to Capernaum to heal a man possessed with a spirit.  After that he goes back to Galilee for a preaching tour and then back again to Capernaum in order to get a paralytic up on his feet. Then he jumps on a boat headed across the sea of Galilee where he reveals his ability to control the weather, which leads him to the country of the Gerasenes where he sends evil spirits into a herd of pigs who go nuts and run off the edge of the cliff. From there he decides to have reunion at home in Nazareth only to be rejected and sent to Bethsaida where he decides to show of his aquatic skills by walking on water.  He then goes way out of his way to Tyre  where he crosses a woman from Syrophoenicia who gives him a piece of her mind. Heading back to Bethsaida Jesus cures the blind and tells about his impending death and resurrection.  By chapter 9, Jesus heads up a mountain where he has the strange experience of having his clothes turn dazzling white and two dead guys show up in the clouds.  From there, he comes down the mountain, passes through Galilee and Capernaum, heads into the region of Judea, over the river Jordan, through the woods, just past grandmother’s house, only now to find himself…on a road..

On a road with no name in place with no name.  For the first time, we are given no indicators of where Jesus is or where he is going.  And on this road to nowhere, he encounters man who is also on a road to nowhere.  And we should be asking the question, what’s this man doing all the way out here in the middle of nowhere.  Mark is telling us something by leaving out an indicators of where they are because this man is lost.  Where is this man? Who knows, because he doesn’t even know.  And he’s desperate to find himself.

I mean, he comes running up to Jesus, as if he hasn’t seen any human life for miles, and falls to his knees.  And as the rocks burrow into his skin, he begs the question, “What must I do?  What must I do to inherit eternal life? To experience something that is of God and worth living for?”

Now what this man is saying is actually quite profound because not only were the wealthy seen as the one’s with status and power, but they were seen as especially blessed by God.  For all intents and purposes he should be thrilled that God has blessed him so.  But I think he is getting suspicious that perhaps an experience of the divine does not come in the form of money, and if it does not come in the form of money and wealth, perhaps it never comes at all.  This man is desperate for a taste of God’s presence in his life.

Perhaps not quite catching on to how dire the situation is, Jesus, like any good pious Jew, simply tells him to follow the commandments – you know, don’t kill, don’t steal, love your father and mother, all that stuff.  With a little more desperation this time, the rich man replies, “But I have done that!  All the days of my life, I have followed those commandments.  You’ve got to give me something else!”

And just then, Jesus gets it.  Jesus looks at him, and not with one of those angry condescending looks that says you’ve done something wrong.  No, he looks at him with one of those looks that says, “Oh.  Now I see what’s going on.”  A look that piers right into this man’s soul sees a heart that is shattering.  Shattering from the suspicion that life as he knows it is meaningless, because if he’s not experience God through his wealth or good deeds, then perhaps God is nowhere to be found at all.

And upon truly seeing this man for who he was, Jesus looks at him and loves him.  Jesus loved him, because, I think, Jesus knew that this man’s deeper question –how can I find some sense of meaning (Hall 11); how can I see God active in my life? – is the question of every person.  The psalmist from Psalm 13 prays, “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” A man from Mark’s gospel confronts Jesus about his sick daughter, and he says, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”  Or as one of my professors once wrote, “I am not a very religious person.  When peeled to the core, there lurks the conviction that I am always about one day away from abandoning the faith.”  I don’t know about you, but I know that feeling.  The feeling that you are just one day, one nightly news segment, or one ambulance siren away from unbelief.

Well, that is where this desperate rich man was.  Looking over the edge of unfaith and about ready to jump.  So, out of love, Jesus tells this man to go and sell all of his possessions and to give the money to the poor.  And he says, “After you’ve done that, come and follow me.  Come and be my disciple.”  And the man goes away grieving.  And grieving seems about right if you ask me.  By calling him to be a disciple, Jesus asks him not simply for his possessions, Jesus asks him to give over his entire being, his entire self. His money, his status, and his power.  I mean, Jesus is literally asking him to give up his life.

And grieving seems about right because even if that life was meaningless at least it was safe.  With his money, this guy knew he would always have shelter and food on the table.  So to do what Jesus asked would mean to give up his security, his safety net.  But as we have seen the security of wealth couldn’t protect him from the death of meaninglessness, from the infectious fear that perhaps God is nowhere.

Jesus’ invitation was more than a move of showing justice and care to the poor, but it was a call to face those fears head on.  “If you cannot find God, then, Come, follow me, we’ll go looking.”  “If life feels meaningless, the come, follow me, we’ll look for what is meaningful.”  All this so that this man can perhaps for the first time in his life begin to really trust in God.  Trusting that God is active in his life, that God loves him.  That every moment of every day God looks at him with love and says, “Come and follow me.”

And so it is for us.  Jesus invites us into the scary and uncharted territories of God’s activity here and now. No, not so that we will get into heaven when we die.  God has already claimed us as God’s own and so there is no need to worry about the afterlife. But so that we too can perhaps for the first time in our life begin to really trust in God.  Trusting that God is active in us, that God loves us.  That every moment of every day God looks at us with love and says, “Come and follow me.”  And what does it mean to follow God but to love loving.  To love God.  To love your neighbors.  To love your enemies. That is where one encounters God.  Which is really hard because it means we have to lower the walls that protect us and step out, it means we have to give up our wealth and power to those who are poor and powerless, and it means we risk our very being.

Where was Jesus going?  Or better yet, where is Jesus going?  He is going out to find you.  To call you by name to be a disciple.  To be a witness and agent unto God’s will being done on earth as it has already been done in heaven.  So that you might catch a glimpse of the God who is incarnate here in this world for the experience salvation now.  So that perhaps for the first time you might begin to trust that God looks into your heart and loves you, and in response you might look into the hearts of others and love them.  AMEN.

 

Sermon – Mark 9:30-37 – Sept. 20, 2009

JesusChildrenLambWhen I first read this text, I couldn’t help but think that it is the perfect text for this time of year.  Weeks ago schools all over welcomed children back for another year of learn.  Just last we started our own Sunday school and welcomed the children  what a drastic change from the Jesus we’ve had the past two Sundays. And today Jesus says, “Welcome the children!  Bring in the children.  When you welcome them, you welcome me.  And when you welcome me, you welcome God.” It is so perfect.  It is so peaceful.  It is the Kodak moment, in which picture Jesus holding the children in the palm of his hand, and then we plaster it on church bulletins everywhere.

But if I am being honest, I can’t help but wonder if this is what Jesus really meant.  I cannot help but wonder if we still have a Jesus who offends us and makes us uncomfortable.  Two weeks ago, Jesus tells the Syrophoenician woman that she and other foreigners are like dogs, undeserving of the gifts from God’s table.  Then Jesus calls Peter Satan and tells him to get out of his way.  But is Jesus really telling us today to welcome the peaceful, innocent children or is he saying something different.

Children today are a symbol of life, and happiness.  The ideal Christian family with well-mannered, pig-tailed children running around the house.  You can see this all over.  News networks lit up this week when a young dad caught a foul ball at a baseball game, handed to his daughter and what does she do?  She throws it back over the upperdeck railing.  It was funny, it was cute.  The father gave his daughter a big hug and told her that it was okay.  And the news just ate it up.  If a politician or celebrity wants portray their sensitive, gentle side, what do they do?  They film them with their children at home, taking a walk, or playing in a park.  Today, children are a sign of joy and gentleness.  And it is easy to see how we get that picture on front of your bulletin of gentle Jesus holding and lifting up the cute children.  But our text today gives us three images of children that tell a different story.

The first image actually from the verses just before our text today, where we hear the story of a young boy possessed by a Spirit.  The disciples and Jesus come down from their high, mountaintop experience, only to be thrust into the stark darkness of a boy possessed with a Spirit.  A boy so possessed that his own body thrusts him into fires and lakes.  Now Jesus is the only one who can cast out this demon, and listen to what he. He says, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.”  This child has been kept from speaking and hearing.  This first image of a child is of one who has been silenced and stuffed away. One whose voice and right to speak have been taken away from them.

The second image of a child come when Jesus and the disciples tip-toe their way through Galilee.  Jesus turns to his disciples and tells them that the Son of Man, will be betrayed.  Thrust into human hands and killed.  The Son, the child, will be betrayed and killed. This second image of a child is of one who has been rejected and put to death.

Finally, the third image of a child comes, once Jesus and company have traveled to Capernaum.  Jesus huddles the team up in a small room of a house, and he says to them, “You want to be the greatest?  You want to be at the top?  Well, chew on this.  In order to be first you must be last.  You must become servant of all.”  And then he reaches down, picks up a little, dirty, squirming child and says, “If you welcome the child, you welcome not just me, but you welcome God.”  This third image of a child is of one is last, who is slaving servant to all, waiting at the hands and feet of its masters.

So is this story about our sweet Jesus who teaches us to love the sweet children?  I don’t think so, because the text tells us that the children represent  something different.  They represent those who have been kept from silenced and hidden from society.  Those who have been betrayed into human hands and killed.  Those who are last and servants of all.  They are the socially invisible.  Dismissed.  Lowly. Weak.  Vulnerable.  Those without status.

Among his disciples Jesus places the the nobody and he says, “Here I am.  You welcome this child, this reject, you welcome me. You welcome me, you welcome God.”  It was offensive then and it is offensive today.  Because what does this mean for the life that God is calling us into?  This turns our world upside down.  Our society does not operate like this, by welcoming the lowly and forgotten.  Our society operate by standing on them, with what I would call the “pig pile” mentality.  Do you remember what a pig pile is.  This when playful kids or a celebrating sports team piles up on top of one another.  Now, if you have ever experienced this or witnessed it, you know exactly which is the last place you want to be.  On the bottom.  You have the weight of everyone on top of you and, though done in good fun, it can be suffocating.  Our society operates as a pig pile feeding on the denigration of human life.  A pyramid scheme if you will, where we all are fighting to get to the top because we certainly do not want to be crushed at the bottom.  The disciples know this; they had it back then too.  Why else would they argue about who is greatest?  Because they are trying win each other over and be the greatest at the top of the pig pile.

Today, advertisement after advertisement, commercial after commercial, tells us that we have yet to reach the top.  If you have this one last item, if you lose just 10 more pounds, if you can get one more promotion, then you will have reached the top.  Then you will be complete and you will have made it.  So this idea that we welcome the lowly and diseased is not something we are interested in, because we just trying to get to the top ourselves.

The only problem is that there is not much “at the top” and, once you are there, there is only one direction left to go.  The few who have gotten there or close will tell us this if we listen closely.  In 2001, David Duval, a professional golfer, won the British Open, his first and only major championship.  After all was said and done, trophy has been presented, check handed out, he whispered to his caddy, “You know, I thought it would feel better than this.”  Actor Matthew Fox, of the hit TV show LOST, said that next year he is going to take a break from acting, because he doesn’t want to miss any more of his kids lives than he already has.

Our system forces us to climb over one another, pushing and clawing to be on top in order to achieve an unknown and ultimately absent goal.  There is nothing at the top.  In contrast, God actually invites us down and towards the bottom of the pig pile – into the most God-forsaken place where the forgotten, the invisible and disgraced reside.  And God says, “Come find me there.”

God invites us, begs us, pleads with us to welcome those at the bottom, those who are suffocating because in the end don’t we all end up there anyways?  Don’t we all eventually fall from the top?  Towns are tearing each other apart over who deserves health care.  Churches everywhere are deathly afraid that their endowment is running out and they won’t turn things around in time. Don’t we fall from the top when we slowly realize that our marriage isn’t what it used to be.  Or when we realize that our deteriorating health forces us to now depend more on our children than they do on us.  We are dying in ways that are known, but primarily unknown to those around us.  God invites us into joining those at the bottom, because let’s face it, we are already there.

And so God does not tell us to welcome those at the top, because the top is not real.  The top is just a figment of our imagination that we keep fighting each other over.  The top is not real, cancer is real.  Life behind bars is real.  Staggering financial debt is real.  And God wants us to be real.  God wants us to come down from the top and to take off our masks.  And the beautiful thing is that God promises to meet us there.

Jesus says, “when you welcome one such as this, one who is suffering and suffocating, you welcome not just me, but you welcome the one who sent me.”  God promises to meet us right here in our suffering. When are willing to come down, take off our masks, and join each other in it and only then will those God-forsaken places at the bottom of the pile become God-forsaken no more. AMEN.

Sermon – Ephesians 4:25-5:2 – Aug. 9, 2009

Well, once again, good morning.  For those of you who do not know me, my name is Jonathan Davis and I am the intern pastor here at Augustana Lutheran Church.  I started here last week and will be here through next July.

Now….I am 27 years old, I have voted in three presidential elections, I have been married to my beautiful wife, Lauren, for three years, I have two cats, I am two years into a graduate degree, and I have planned and  led mission trips all over the country for middle schoolers.  So for all intents and purposes, I would consider myself an independent knowledgeable adult.  Yet, the older I get, the more I realize how little I actually know about life.  Like an 8-year-old boy craving and soaking up knowledge like a sponge, these days, I find myself clinging to every word that my father says.

When he speaks, wisdom springs forth and I lean in on the edge of my seat, wondering what will be said next.  He could be talking about politics, the new book he just read, or what he think about the afterlife.  It does not really matter.  I find myself in awe and I want to grab a tape recorder and push the button with the little red circle on it to ensure that this won’t be the last time I hear these words.  To ensure that I won’t forget them.  And as a result of this quarter-life crisis, I have found myself not sitting around waiting for such wisdom, but actually seeking out it from my dad by cornering him in his own kitchen and firing question after question at him.  Dad, how do should you buy a house – do you find the house first or the bank?  Dad, what did you and mom do when the house flooded?  How did your recover from such a thing?  Dad, what’s your opinion on abortion, because I can see both sides on the issue?  Dad, if you could do everything all over again, what would you do differently?

Just last week, a man was talking about how he actually journals for his children.  He writes about his life, he writes about his experiences with them, and he writes on topics that he thinks they may need to know about someday – like how to buy a car, or how to hang dry wall, and so on. Imagine the wisdom that flows out from the pages of that journal.

Well, this is exactly what we get today from Paul and his letter to the Ephesians – parental wisdom.  Sage wisdom about living well as the larger church that is called to be one in God, or as Pastor Michelene put it last week – the larger church that is knitted and joined together.  Throughout this letter, Paul has one central theme – being one as the body of Christ.  Now, writing to a primarily Gentile audience, Paul grounds this theme in the relationship between Jews and Gentiles.  You see, Jews and Gentiles did not associate with one another. They did not marry one another, they did not eat together, and they, ideally, were not seen speaking to one another.  Jews were the Israelites, God’s chosen people; Gentiles were the pagan idols worshipers, God’s unchosen people.  That’s just how it was – the Gentiles were condemned by God and the Jews were not to interact with them.

But with his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds the Gentiles that there is relationship with the Jews is not as it seems.  Paul reminds them of a secret that has been buried and hidden from humankind – that whether they like it or not, the Jews and the Gentiles are one in God.  They share in the same grace and the same promise from God, that God will love them unconditionally.  They share in the same calling  – to be children of God and bearers of light and love into this dark world.

So, the secret is out, there is not distinction between Jew or Gentile.  Both are children of God and have responsibility to live into that calling.  To rid themselves of their old ways of living and to clothe themselves in new life.

And so, in the text for today, Paul offers his parental wisdom on what that new life looks like.  “Put away falsehood and be truthtellers,” he says.  “If you are angry, fine, be angry…. but don’t let it get out of hand and lead you to sin, and certainly don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”   “Those of you who are thieves, in this new life, stop stealing!  And to those of you who are not, give them jobs so that they can begin sharing their wealth…..Do not speak evil to one another, but build each other up.  And let go of your bitterness and wrath, but be kind and tenderhearted, for you are called to be imitators of God.”  Imitators of God.  We are called to be imitators of God.  Nowhere else in the New Testament are we called to be imitators of God.  Imitators of Christ, yes, but imitators of God?  What a powerful calling.  Bring light and love into the world, not darkness and hate.  Be kind and tenderhearted and you will live fully.

Today’s Gospel text from John talks about this.  Jesus is the bread of life.  The way of Jesus is the way of life.  Eat this bread, Jesus says.  The bread of life, not the bread of death.  Even on Augustana’s sign out here, it quotes John 10:10 that says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  The concern is with LIFE; how do we live well and into our God given calling to be united as one.

Jesus says, “Let the dead bury the dead…come over here where there is life.” The concern is with life and how we live it.  And so it is with Paul.  You Gentiles are a part of the body of Christ, he says.  And you have a calling from God to live in love with one another.  Your old way of living does not work anymore; it was the way of death – filled with lies, greed, anger, and malice.  Empty yourselves of those things.  Come over here and eat this bread.  The bread of life – filled with truth, generosity, kindness, and forgiveness.  Live this way, he says.

Brothers and sisters, look around you.  Look at those behind you, beside you, and in front of you.  You are the chosen people of God.  And now here is the secret, everyone out there, outside these walls, they, too, are the chosen people of God.  And the only difference, if there is one, is that maybe they haven’t heard it yet.

Whether you like it or not, you all here right now, and everyone out there, beyond these walls, are one in God.  You share in the same grace, the same promise, and the same calling from God.  The calling to be God’s children and to be bearers of light into this dark world.  So act like it, Paul says!  Be imitators of God as one community and build up the body of Christ.

What do you need to empty yourself of so that you can begin to live well as one comunity?  Perhaps it’s anger from the past.  Or lost dreams for the future.  Or perhaps apathy has dug itself so deep into you because, “Who cares, anyways?”  Bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice.  Such things  are the way of death and separate you from the living.  Empty yourself of such things so that you may live fully, with honesty, kindness, and tender hearts.  Be the imitators of God that you have been chosen to be.

It won’t be easy.  That’s for sure.  But that’s okay, these are not meant as individual moralisms that are to simply be obeyed, but as communal wisdom for the sake of living well.  No one embarks on this journey alone.

Like a parent offering wisdom for the road ahead, Paul gives us the map to living fully.  It’s a good thing we have it recorded, because we just may need to hear it again and again and again.

We are on the path to becoming whom God intended us to be.  So be well, brothers and sisters.  Live well, this day and in the days ahead, emptying yourself of that which divides you from the rest of God’s people so that you may begin to have life and to have it abundantly.  AMEN