The Rev. Bethany Peerbolte
August 23, 2020
1 Samuel 8:4-18; Romans 13:1-7
Before I read these verses, I want to build some contexts around the scripture. Oftentimes when we look at scripture we've heard before or we have heard used in a very specific way, we have a hard time hearing it in a new way. I want to free us up from some of those previous interactions so that we can truly hear it for today.
I want you to think for a second who you would trust more when making a purchase, a sales person or a friend. If a salesperson came to your door with a product trying to get you to buy it, there would be some added filters you would use as you listen to their sales pitch. There would probably be some skepticism as you listened because you knew they were receiving benefits from selling the product. You would probably ask lots of questions too to make sure they had good intentions. But if a friend came to you with a product that they loved, the filters of skepticism and questioning would probably fall away. This is because we already trust our friends to give us good information and know they want the best for us. Our friends are also not receiving any benefits from selling to us.
This is a problem that arose on the social media site Instagram. There were content creators who had accounts that were followed by hundreds of thousands of people. Their followers trusted these internet celebrities and logged in just to see what they were saying about issues. Companies saw these accounts and started to pay the content creators to promote their products. When the product was promoted people bought in hordes because they thought the recommendation was coming from a friend when in fact the person was being paid to sell the product; they were receiving a benefit to make the endorsement. Instagram eventually stepped in and made a rule that if a content creator was promoting a product because they were being paid, they had to be honest in their post about the benefits they were receiving. This does not mean the product placement stopped but it did mean that consumers had an honest experience with the product and could make a decision based on the reality of the quid pro quo.
This is similar to what Paul is doing in this text today. Paul is a friend talking about something he values and believes we should value too, but he is not outside of receiving benefits from the thing he's promoting. Paul is a Roman citizen. Now there were two ways to become a Roman citizen at this time. One way was to be born within the empire of Rome. The other way to become a Roman citizen was to buy your citizenship. This was an expensive endeavor but ultimately worth the price. ONLY Roman citizens could own land or make contracts with other citizens. If somebody robbed a citizen, they had the right to sue, they had the right to defend themselves in court if they were accused of something, and they could request that Caesar hear their case first hand. Only Roman citizens could run for civil or public office, they had special immunities from taxes and legal obligations. Citizens could not be tortured or whipped, they could not receive the death penalty unless they were guilty of treason and most important of all, they were the only ones who could vote. I should say here, women were allowed to be Roman citizens but were exempt from many of these benefits of citizenship. But Paul as a roman citizen and a man was given all these things. When we hear Paul endorse the Roman government, we need to remember he speaks from a place of privilege. There were many more who could not afford citizenship and thus did not benefit from the Roman system of government.
One might wonder why Paul would participate is such an unjust system. Well, Paul does not think government or being a citizen is a bad thing or something to revoke. If you became a Roman citizen you were required to put aside the sense of the individual and focus on the good of the community. This ideal gave Paul hope that Christianity and Roman rule could coexist.
When Paul talks it is as a friend, but he is also a salesman who will continue to receive benefits if we buy into the system he promotes. We need to activate our skepticism and question the sales pitch. What Paul is talking about in Romans 13 is a message that was heard by two different types of people, citizens and non-citizens. We need to do the work of both sets of ears when we listen. We need to listen and hear what a citizen would hear, and listen to hear what a non-citizen would hear. So let’s put on one of each of those ears and let us listen to Paul.
(read Romans 13: 1-7)
When we have these two types of people, these two different ears listening, we can hear how they would interpret this message very differently.
To the citizen, this all sounds great. They would be nodding their heads, yes, only criminals go to jail, only those who do wrong receive punishment. Paying taxes helps us all. The government is indeed ordained by God and obeying government is like obeying God. They hear Paul and feel proud of their system.
For the noncitizens, this is troubling. They realize Paul is trying to sell them on something that gives him great benefit. They have questions and skepticism. If those who do wrong get punished, why aren’t they allowed to accuse those who wrong them? If the government rightly wields God’s wrath, why are Roman citizens who murder noncitizens not tried for their crimes? If taxes should be paid, why do Roman citizens get tax breaks? They personally know people who have been innocent yet still received a punishment. They have been taken advantage of by citizens and had no way to seek justice. They ask, God has ordained this? The system’s benefits are not trickling down to them and I’ll bet they are not so keen to obey as Paul requests.
But they don’t get mad at Paul because they also know he is a friend of theirs. Someone who uses his Roman status to help. They can hear in these last few verses their truth. Respect those who are due respect, and honor those who are due honor. The system is not perfect, and there are aspects that need amending. They hear Paul calling other Christians to use their privilege as Roman citizens to work and vote in a way that might help everyone one day receive the benefits. If there is a place that does not deserve respect, work to make it better. If there is a leader who does not deserve honor, use the vote to elect one that does. The citizens who stuck around to listen with both ears heard Paul’s full message.
Unfortunately, many Christians only listen as a citizen and have used these verses to justify all kinds of horrific systems. Some of the articles I read this week made me so mad I wanted to rip this page out of every Bible I owned. The thing that saved my collection is that I do believe Paul is right, I just don’t think Christians have heard him with both ears. We have listened as citizens, benefactors of the system, but not as outsiders. We hear these words, nod along in agreement and walk away before he gets to the part about giving respect and honor only when it is due. We miss that the system is not yet perfect and that we need to work to make it better for everyone in the community.
Paul sees how useful government can be. Because the Roman government exists, and he just so happened to be born on Roman soil, Paul lives an easier life. Not an easy life by any means, but it is easier as a citizen verses a noncitizen. What Paul does with that privilege is advocate for those benefits to be extended to more and more people. Paul affirms that government in and of itself is not innately bad, it is actually ordained by God. And we are called to work with the system God ordains to do the work of blessing the whole community.
In youth group, when we learn about commandments and God’s law, we play a game called, “The game with no rules.” We break out into groups of four and each group is given a standard deck of cards. Each player gets 5 cards and is told the object of the game is to play all five cards. As for the rules, each player secretly thinks of a rule for how the cards need to be played. They do not tell anyone else what their rule is. Then they begin. As you can imagine the game is pretty slow. Every time someone tries to play a card that does not meet your rule you have to yell, “no!” and the play continues to the next player.
It's frustrating, maybe some people get a couple cards played but I have yet to see anyone win this game, it goes on and on and on with no one making much progress, and everyone yelling, “no!” at one another. When we don’t know the rules, we have no idea how to play and have no chance of winning the game.
Laws help us know what is allowable. They free us up to do the things that are allowed, otherwise we live in fear that our next move will get us in trouble. God’s law tells us no killing, no lying, respect your parents. We know how to function as God’s people, and what is expected of us. God approves of governments because it is there to create and enforce the laws. Laws that free us up to live without fear of making a wrong move or being punished unjustly. God wants us to be free to live. The only way to be free is to know what is allowable in the community, otherwise we are stalemated and constantly yelling, “No!” at each other. We will never get anything done unless the rules are clear.
After the card games have stalled and everyone is frustrated, I tell the players to reveal their rules and try to play the game. This inevitably reveals that some of the rules are unfair. Here are some of my favorites rules I’ve has kids make up:
When these unjust rules exist, I let the students vote. We gather all the rules on a white board and vote for our top four favorite rules. Of course, they still vote for rules that benefit them, they have the citizen ear listening, but they also realize that rules that are fair to others will also be fair to them, the noncitizen ear. Then we play our game with the new rules and everyone has a much better time.
This kind of synergy is what God wants for us and what Israel learns in our first reading today. Israel has been making their own laws and enforcing them for a while. As they interact with other nations, they realize everyone else has a king. They start to think a king would be so much easier. They wouldn’t have to argue at committee meetings, decisions would be made so much quicker if one person had to make them all, and they would be able to send that one person off to meet with other nations instead of having to send a group of leaders. Israel thinks a king sounds awesome.
God however is not convinced. God has given them a good system – ordained a government that has brought them through hard times and kept them safe. God has enjoyed watching them work together, live together, and obey together. Sure, they have had disagreements. It’s gotten sticky a couple of times, but in the long run they are doing so well. When they ask God for a king, God is offended. Why not work within the system in existence? God is okay with them making changes but God does not want them to give up their power to one person. God knows humans are flawed and how power can corrupt. Finding one good king is a feat but finding a line of people who will make good decisions, fair, humble, wise decisions. God does not want Israel to open itself up to the disappointment and failure a king can cause.
The system God gives Israel, the one Paul advocated for, is one where the people work together, where people have the power. For Israel, Paul knows, and we also know, this kind of system has issues, but it’s issues are no excuse to stop participating in it. It is God ordained. We are God ordained to make it work.
When Israel wanted out of the system God said, “NO.” Paul is trying to get Christians to stop turning away from the system, because Paul knows together their power can make it better. They can use their immunity to torture and impose the death penalty, to speak truth loudly and hold the system accountable, something Paul does a lot in his lifetime. Paul is known to speak truth that Rome did not appreciate, but their own rules protected him from the consequences. Paul is able to use his status as a Roman citizen to say things and point things out that the noncitizens would be killed for saying. He uses his voice to amplify their experience.
Paul knows the power of the Christian vote within Rome. If every Christian used their vote to make the system a little more just, they could move the massively unjust Roman system one step towards looking like the kingdom of God.
The reason God wants power to stay with the largest group of people is because it is the best way for the Spirit to move. Presbyterian polity is set up around this belief.
In the Presbyterian tradition we believe the Spirit works best in groups. It’s fine if one person feels called to something, but we like it better when groups of people are inspired to the same cause. It shows that the Spirit is clearly pointing the community in a direction, not just one outlier. My favorite example of how we let the Spirit move among groups for decision making is at the highest level of our Presbyterian governing, at our national general assembly. At GA, the national church discusses and votes on denominational issues. It is where we decided to allow the ordination of women and affirmed same sex marriage. Every presbytery sends commissioners to GA, representatives who vote on these motions.
Any commissioner who is sent to GA has the freedom to vote their conscience. This means if they left home thinking they would vote one way on something, they can change their mind at any point. No one is allowed to tell them they need to vote this way or that way. They are not delegates who cast a vote on behalf of others. They can vote however the Spirit leads them in that moment. The reasoning behind this is so as the debate on the floor is heard, they can have an open heart and open mind to what each voice is saying, and vote the way they believe God wants them to.
This may be the piece Christians forget the most. We need to let the Spirit enter our decision making. We need to pray about the choices we make. We need to remain open to the movement of God’s Spirit even if it means changing completely from one vote to the next.
We have been ordained by God to choose the course of our government. This is what early Christians missed when they just criticized Rome and neglected to participate in the government. Paul is urging them to see that the system actually allows them to do God’s work of uplifting the downtrodden. Christians listen with both ears, one as a citizen who receives the benefits of the system, and as a noncitizen. With our power we can demand all rules are transparent and not kept secret so we can assess if they are fair for everyone playing the game. Paul is begging us to be committed to participating in the system even though it is flawed. It would be easier to let someone else make the choices for us. But the Spirit needs all of us to do her work. So…. let’s start now and pray today and every day that we make and keep making a system that is due all our honor and respect.
he Rev. Dr. John Judson
August 16, 2020
Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 23:32-34
I want to begin with two incidents that occurred over the last week or so. The first concerns a 72 year-old disabled vet. He was staying at a motel when he noticed a young woman and her boyfriend enter without masks. As the couple passed by, the vet spoke to the woman reminding her that state and local ordinances required that masks be worn indoors. The couple passed on by without incident. Later though, the boyfriend returned, spoke to the vet and then proceeded to attack the vet, hitting him so hard that he broke the older man’s jaw and rendered him unconscious. The second story took place in a Utah Walmart, where a woman was shopping without a mask. Another shopper, with a mask, confronted her. The maskless woman explained that she could not wear the mask because of a medical condition. In response the outraged mask-wearing shopper, grabbed the maskless shopper and threw her to the ground, injuring her. I wish I could say that these are isolated incidents, but they aren’t. Just google “mask violence” and it will return thousands of results. My question for this morning is, how did we get here? And I will guarantee that most of you will immediately have an answer. But what I want to offer to you, is that we have come to this point in our national life because we have followed the fivefold path of dehumanization.
What is the fivefold path of dehumanization? It is the path that human beings have been following for as long as there have been human beings that lead people from peace to violence. Here is how it works. The path begins with a precipitating event. This event can be a war, a plague, a drought or any other life changing societal event. The path continues with this event creating, what Bowen Systems Theory calls, free-floating anxiety. This is anxiety that ripples through society, unnerving both individuals and the community. Next comes blame. If there is free-floating anxiety, there must be someone to blame. Someone is at fault. That someone can be a leader, or more often, those on the edge of society; the marginalized. Once someone has been found to blame, the path moves toward separation. If it is “those people” who are to blame then we need to separate ourselves from them, so that we are not contaminated by their presence. Finally, the path leads us to the conclusion that those “separated” people are not fully human, and therefore are deserving of violence and punishment.
If you want to see how this works in the Bible, consider the Hebrews in Egypt. The precipitating event is the rapid growth of the Hebrew people. Anxiety arises among the Egyptians because they fear being outnumbered. There is blame when the Egyptians, rather than seeing this growth as a blessing on the Hebrews by their God, see the Hebrew population growth as an attack upon the nation. There is separation when the Hebrew people are made slaves. Finally, there is violence when Pharaoh orders all the Hebrew male children to be killed. We can also see the fivefold path of dehumanization in the first Roman persecution of Christians which happened when Rome burned, people became anxious, the Christians were blamed, then rounded up and finally killed in the arena. If you want to see how this has operated in the United States, we can see it clearly in the internment of persons of Japanese heritage after Pearl Harbor and the attacks on Muslims following 9/11. The question before us as followers of Jesus is, how ought we to respond to this process of dehumanization?
The answer Paul offers us is that rather than dehumanizing, we are to rehumanize. We are to work toward moving ourselves and others off the fivefold path of dehumanization and on to a different path; on to the five-fold path for rehumanizing those around us. Here is Paul’s fivefold path for rehumanization.
First we shower blessings. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” Paul writes. By this Paul means that our first response is to treat those who have dehumanized us, or whom we have dehumanized, as full children of God, by blessing them; by blessing them in whatever fashion we choose, meaning such things as acts of compassion, offering kind words and showing patience among them. When we offer these blessings we are saying that these people are worthy of God’s love and grace. In this way those we have dehumanized become human to us again.
Second, we share space. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.” It has been said that until we share laughter and sorrow with another then we are not connected. We are merely strangers. Part of the task before us then, is to be present with those whom we have dehumanized, or have dehumanized us, so that we can experience the joys and pains of life together. In this way those we have dehumanized become human to us again.
Third, we are to show humility. “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.” Part of dehumanizing others is when we believe that we alone hold the truth and the other does not. By so doing we not only break fellowship with others but we see them as less worthy, as lesser beings who don’t possess our superior knowledge. By showing humility we open ourselves to entering a truly human relationship with another. In this way those we have dehumanized become human to us again.
Fourth, we are to stop all violence. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all…beloved never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God.” Violence is never acceptable because it robs people of their humanity. Violence states that the person attacked is not worthy of life, or existence, and therefore is not fully human, and so we eschew violence. In this way those we have dehumanized become human to us again.
Fifth, sow love. “If your enemy is hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not overcome evil with evil but overcome evil with good.” As I said in another sermon recently, to heap burning coals is a sacrificial gift of heat and warmth. It is a gift of love. Our calling is to sow love, meaning to cast it to all, whether they have dehumanized us, or we have dehumanized them. One way to see love is as spiritual weed-and-feed. Love feeds the good spiritual lawn and destroys the evil weeds around us. So we are to cast our love to the world. In this way those we have dehumanized become human to us again.
What does this five-fold path look like? It looks like the life of Jesus. Jesus showered the world with blessings by healing people physically, mentally and spiritually. And he healed all people, not just those who liked him. Jesus shared space. One of the great accusations about Jesus was that he ate with sinners, tax-collectors and all the wrong kinds of people…including those whom his society had dehumanized. Jesus showed humility. He never demanded the greatest position for himself and was always willing to debate those who disagreed with his interpretation of God’s will. He was non-violent. His movement was one of non-violence. It was one of healing and not destroying. Finally, he sowed love. he sowed love for men, women and children; for rich and poor; for Romans and Jews. By going to the cross he sowed love for all the world…and especially for those who crucified him; who saw him as less than human. He sowed love in their lives by asking God to forgive them. This is what the five-fold path of rehumanization looks like.
Before I finish, I want to add one caveat to this fivefold path, which is that this plan is not intended to put anyone in physical or psychological danger. I know that Jesus went to the cross, but this is not what he or Paul are asking of us. Paul puts it this way, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” By adding, if it is possible, Paul admits that there are times when this rehumanizing process may not work; that there are times when following the plan might lead to our becoming victims of violence. This is not Paul’s intent. This is not Jesus’ intent. Even so, our task is clear. We are to be rehumanizing agents in the world.
My challenge for you for this week is this, to ask ourselves, how am I rehumanizing those whom I have dehumanized and who have dehumanized me?
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
August 9, 2020
Isaiah 58:1-8; Romans 12:1-8
What is your love language? This is a question that I ask every couple in premarital counseling. I ask because I believe knowing your partner’s love language is a key ingredient in making for a lasting relationship. For those of you who don’t know what love languages are, they are the ways in which we receive love; actions that make us feel loved. The idea of the love languages came out of a bestselling book called, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. In the book, Chapman lists five ways in which people give and receive love. These are: quality time - you hang out and actually listen to one another; words of affirmation - you complement one another; gifts - you give things to each other; acts of service - you do things for one another; and physical touch – which includes everything from holding hands...to, well I will let you use your imagination. The theory is that if each partner learns the love language of the other and then puts those languages into practice, then the relationship will be better. With that in mind, my question this morning is, what is God’s love language?
I realize that asking about God’s love language may appear to be a strange question. It is a strange question because even though we speak of God loving the world, or of us loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, many of us might not be accustomed to thinking of how our loving God makes God feel. I say this because western Christianity has often wanted to speak of God as the unmoved mover, or as the one who doesn’t need anything from us human beings. That, perhaps even to speak of God feeling loved, is to anthropomorphize God. Yet, if we listen to both of our texts this morning we will discover that God does have at least one, and perhaps more love languages. I say this because of a single word that occurs in both our texts. The word is translated as “acceptable.” I have to admit for years when I read the word, acceptable, I heard echoes of my teachers, when they returned a paper, looking at me and saying with a sigh, “John you can do better, but this is acceptable.” Implying that my effort was only good. However, both the Greek and Hebrew words translated as “acceptable”, carry a different and more often used meaning, which is “well pleasing”, meaning to warm the heart of another. We see this word in Isaiah 58:5 and Romans 12:1-2. In each case the writer is trying to tell those reading the text what makes God’s heart glad. In Isaiah, God’s heart is warmed by loosing the chains of injustice, untying the cords of the yoke, setting the oppressed free, sharing your food with the hungry, providing the poor wanderer with shelter, and clothing the naked. This is easily understood, so the question before us, is what about Paul? What does Paul have to tell us in this, his letter to the church in Rome?
The answer to this question is two-fold. The first answer Paul gives us is that what makes God feel loved, that warms God’s heart, is when we “present our bodies as living sacrifices” to God. Paul says this action is our spiritual worship. For those reading Paul in the first century, this image of a sacrifice would be both familiar and easily understood. A sacrifice was an object left at the Temple of your particular deity. A sacrifice was something given, completely and unconditionally to God. For Paul, what pleases God is the giving of our whole selves over to God. We hold nothing back. We give our heart, soul, mind and body. We give over our actions and reactions. And when we give ourselves completely to God, it pleases God, because it means we are giving ourselves over to the deep and abundant life that God desires us to have. Like a parent who feels a sense of joy when their child embraces a life filled with meaning, purpose and joy, God does the same with us. But this is only half of the answer.
The second half of the answer comes, appropriately enough, in the second half of this section of Paul’s letter. The second half of the answer to the question, what is God’s love language, is the act of each of us playing our part in showing forth Jesus to the world. Let me explain. One of Paul’s favorite images of the church is that it is the body of Christ. We see this in verse four, “…so we who are many, are one body in Christ…” I would argue that when Paul speaks of the community of Jesus followers as the body of Christ, he is using this image as more than a metaphor; he actually means that we are the body of Christ in the world. We are the current incarnation of Jesus in the physical world. We re-present Jesus to the world around us. Therefore, we are to show forth Jesus to the world around us. The problem is that none of us can show forth Jesus alone. None of us have all the gifts and attributes of Jesus. Only by working together then, can we show forth Jesus. Only by assessing, or as Paul puts it, "...thinking with sober judgment…” about ourselves, and discovering how we are gifted to show forth part of Jesus can we be the body of Christ in the world.
I realize that in this time of Covid-19, it is not easy to see ourselves as the body of Christ. When we cannot be in the same space with one another; when we only see each other on video screens; when we cannot share a coffee pot and goodies after church, it is difficult to think of ourselves as a single body. Even so, I believe that this is the perfect time for us to understand what it means to live God’s love language. I say this because all the gifts mentioned in this section; the gifts that we are to use to show forth Jesus to the world, are gifts that can, and should be used, outside of the church building. In other words, while Paul’s offers gifts lists in other letters, those gifts are intended to help build the community internally. I believe that these gifts are those that are intended to be used, as I have said, to show forth Jesus to the world. And what better time to do this than in this moment when people are angry, bewildered, divided and discouraged. To understand this, I am going to take us on a quick tour of the gifts…and as I do, see if any of these might be one of your gifts.
Prophecy – prophecy is the gift of being able to speak the truth about God’s loving justice as Isaiah did. It is to speak up for the poor, the hungry and the marginalized. Where can you speak up?
Ministry – this means serving. The Greek word is diaconos, from which we get our word deacon. It means to serve those who are in need. How can you help another?
Teacher – this means to help people understand the love and grace of God. Though we often associate this with clergy, it is what parents and friends can do with those with whom they spend time. With whom can you share God’s love?
Exhorter – this means to encourage others. And if there is ever a time when people need encouragement it is now. Who can you encourage?
Giving – this means to give of our financial resources. Where are the needs in this moment greatest where you can share your money?
Leading – this is helping to guide people along the path to life. Where can you take the lead in helping others find their way?
Compassionate – this is showing compassion to those you encounter. Where can you show compassion in this often uncompassionate world?
Each of these gifts are attributes of Jesus. Each of these gifts are needed to show forth Jesus to the world. And only when we work together, each doing our part can we as a community show forth Jesus to the world. Only when we work together can we speak God’s love language. My challenge for you then is this, to ask yourselves, what is my gift, how am I putting it to work to warm the heart of God and the heart of those around me?
August 2, 2020
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
Exodus 12:33-39; Matthew 10:40-42
I was flummoxed. I read these words from Jesus over and over and had gotten nowhere. I read commentaries and looked at the root meanings of the words in them. All the commentaries either skimmed over these verses or said they were about supporting missionaries. Most of the word discussions were pretty perfunctory. None of this study helped me to make sense of what Matthew was trying to tell us in these closing words of Jesus’ teaching about the mission. So I quit thinking about the text and went for a walk to try and clear my head, which is what I often do in these moments. And it was on my walk, that it dawned on me that I had been thinking about these verses like a good twenty-first century westerner and not as a first century Jew. When I changed my mental orientation, I realized that these verses are not about supporting missionaries, but they are a word picture, lodged within a cultural container. I realize that this may sound a bit, well, lecture-like, but bear with me.
In order to fully appreciate the word picture, I need you to do something for me. I need you to open your arms as if you are embracing someone. If you have someone to embrace, then do that. If you are by yourself, embrace yourself. Feel that embrace. Ok, you are experiencing the word picture. The word picture is that of embracing. Next is the cultural container. The cultural container is that in first-century Judaism, to welcome someone could mean to simply open one’s home and feed someone or let them spend the night, but it could also mean …and here’s the key to understanding Jesus’s words…to embrace both a message and manner of life. We can see this in Jesus’ words “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.” And “whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous.” The word picture is that of embracing the message of the prophet, meaning embracing God’s justice for the world. Embracing the righteous person means embracing a just way of life, for that is what it means to be righteous. And the reward, which is mentioned in both passages, is that of being a citizen of God’s inbreaking Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, when people embrace the message and manner of God’s loving justice they become citizens of God’s kingdom of heaven.
Now with those reoriented images in our mind, let’s return to verse 42, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” The word picture is of others embracing the message about and the manner of living God’s justice., which we are to live and share. And when anyone embraces the message and the manner, then they are embracing Christ. They are embracing Christ for it is Jesus who preached and lived fully the justice of God’s loving kindness. And when anyone embraces Jesus, they embrace the one who sent him, meaning they embrace God. By embracing God’s message and manner of living justice for all, people embrace the beating heart of God. And when they embrace and are embraced by God, they more fully become citizens of God’s kingdom of heaven come to earth.
It is this reality, that of helping others embrace the message and manner of God’s loving justice so that they too can be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, that makes our mission so important. This is why we are called to continue this mission of striving for justice even when it is uncomfortable and controversial. This is why we are called to continue this mission even when it is not fashionable or trendy. We are to do so because it is the pathway to help all persons enter into and be connected with the heart of the living, God, so that they too can proclaim and embody the true nature of God, that of justice for all. My challenge for you then on this communion Sunday, is that as you take the elements, that you see in the bread and cup, the depth of God’s love for all people, and God’s redeeming love poured out for the world…then ask yourself, how am I continuing to invite people into God’s loving justice and into the heart of the living God?