Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 28, 2016

2016.02.08 “Roll Down, Justice: A Lenten Biblical Reflection – Session 3: I Dream of a Church” -Matthew 25: 31 – 46

Central United Methodist Church
Roll Down, Justice: A Lenten Biblical Reflection
Session 3: I Dream of a Church
Pastor David L. Haley
Matthew 25: 31 – 46
February 28th, 2016

 MightyFlowingStream copy

Note: This sermon series is adapted from the study, “Roll Down, Justice: A Lenten Biblical Reflection,” developed by the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church, written by Faye Wilson and featuring the music and reflections of life-long Methodist and musician Mark A. Miller. http://gcorr.org/resources/roll-down-justice While I drew upon the suggestions of the study guide for each session, my reflections are my own. – Pastor Haley

Session 3: I Dream of a Church    

I dream of a church where everyone is welcome
I dream of a place we all can call home.
I dream of a world where justice is flowing
With hope and peace growing
Where God’s will is done. – By Mark A. Miller

Matthew 25: 31 – 46 (The New Revised Standard Version)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

Note: For this session, Session 3, “I Dream of a Church,” we watched Mark Miller’s spoken reflection in the video (here), and then watched his musical reflection after my comments below. I commend readers to do so as well. – Pastor Haley

 

Thank you, Mark Miller, for sharing with us your dream church, a church where everyone is welcome.

Before we hear Mark put his dream into music, let’s talk about our dream church. Have you ever thought about what our dream church might be? We talk about owning our dream car, or finding our dream home; what might our dream church be?

Would our dream church have a parking space close to the door? No stairs? Cushioned pews, or perhaps even recliners, like some theaters have? Would it have a sound system to rival the one used tonight at the Academy Awards? Would it have a 10-minute sermon? Would our perfect church never ask for money but always have plenty?

Or, would our perfect church not be any of those things, but be about people. Might it be a church such as Mark Miller has described, where people of all races, cultures, sexual identities, abilities, ages, economic circumstances, and beliefs are deeply welcomed and treated as honored guests.

That – of course – was the way it began. From the beginning, Jesus practiced radical hospitality. He was known for hanging out with those scorned by both religion and respectable society, pronouncing God’s blessings upon them and calling such people as his followers. Even in his teaching, it was such people he talked about, placing them at he center of his Kingdom values: prodigal sons welcomed home with parties, the last and the least welcomed into the Kingdom Feast. In our focus Scripture today, the Parable of the Last Judgment, it was the treatment of such people – even unaware – that was the standard for entrance into the Kingdom: “Lord, when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

However, as soon as Jesus left the scene, the Church began drawing boundaries again, reintroducing those childhood scripts we talked about in Session 1, of who and who not to welcome.

First they wanted to restrict Christianity to Jews only; the Apostle Paul basically gave his life to include Gentiles, also known as Greeks or pagans, a story told in the Book of Acts. There was early on (even as now) a preferential option for the rich, which surfaces in 1st Corinthians and the Epistle of James.

In short, from the earliest times until now, the Church – fallible human institution that it is – has been busy reconstructing the boundaries that Jesus tore down: issues with class (free/slave), belief (orthodox/heterodox); gender (men/women), race (black/white), and of course sexuality (celibacy/marriage; heterosexual/homosexual). Can I say that it is my belief that from the beginning, the Church has been almost a complete failure in regard to human sexuality, because it was seen as inherently “sinful,” and even more importantly, an aspect of humanity that the Church couldn’t control.

You should know that I say this after having just watched the powerful movie which will be considered for an Oscar tonight, Spotlight, the story of the Boston Globe’s exposure of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal, perpetrated by priests and covered up by the Church’s hierarchy, specifically Archbishop Bernard Law, who was not the only one. Honestly, if I had been a victim, or a family member of a victim, I don’t know how I could ever sit in a church again.

But I think Mark Miller is right to define the pew of a local church as the place where we initially experience either the best or the worst of what the Christian faith has to offer, either welcome & affirmation, or rejection & shame.

Sadly, my guess is that more of us could share stories of inhospitality, than of welcome and hospitality experienced in churches. I am a white male – fairly well groomed and respectable – and even I have experienced a dearth of hospitality in churches I have visited, standing by myself at fellowship hours, while others visited with their friends. I can only imagine what it would be like to be a person of color, or to be gay or lesbian, to live an alternative lifestyle, or even to wear clothes that might not be the best.

I have read stories about pastors who dressed down, disguising themselves as a homeless person, who then visited their own congregation, incognito, to be treated rudely or shown a seat in the back. At the appropriate point in the service – say time for the sermon – they unveil themselves and go forward, SURPRISE: “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. “

Having said this, I also pray that at some point or another we have all had an experience like Mark Miller, where – regardless of who we are – we felt genuinely and truly welcomed, perhaps to the point where tears became flowing. Regardless of the surroundings, whether chapel or cathedral, wouldn’t such welcome and acceptance be our dream church, embodying across the centuries the radical hospitality of Jesus, revealing the all encompassing love of God.

In my last appointment, I also got to pastor the Congregational Church along with the Methodist Church, and one of the side benefits of that was using the UCC’s welcoming slogan: “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” I loved saying that every Sunday, first of all because I meant it, despite our denomination’s official stance of being less than welcoming; and secondly because I meant it, absolutely and without qualification.

I can only imagine what a self-fulfilling prophecy it might be to spell it out every Sunday, as Mark Miller described:

-Welcome to you if you are gay, lesbian, or transgendered, orstraight, whatever your sexual identity, you are welcome.

-Welcome to you if you use a walker or are in a wheelchair, however you are differently abled!

-Welcome to you if you are autistic, or suffer from otherforms of mentally illness or ability over which you have no control!

-Welcome to those of you who struggle with substance abuse and addiction, you are welcome here!

-Welcome to those of you who are immigrants, who don’t even speak English, you too are welcome here.

This is why I am so thankful to pastor a congregation like Central, which is diverse, reflecting how different we are in ways both visible and invisible. Each Sunday – especially during Holy Communion – I give thanks to God for our diversity.

However, the Sunday that really stands out in my memory was a summer Sunday several years ago. We had a good turnout at the 8:30 service in the Log Cabin, such that I told Gerhard, I hope we have some guests attend the 10:30 service, to fill up the pews. Of course, I was thinking a preferential option for the rich. To show that God has a sense of humor, who showed up but two BUSLOADS of young adults with mental and emotional disabilities, from local group homes, filling up two complete pews. Do you remember that Sunday? Some of them were so profoundly disabled, they could not even speak. But I will never forget Holy Communion, because the only way it could happen was if we HELPED each other. Because it was such a powerful symbol of the Kingdom of God, for me, like Mark Miller, the tears began to flow.

Like Mark, my dream church is a church where everyone is welcome. Deep down in your heart, isn’t it yours also?

Please return to the video (here) and watch and listen to Mark Miller’s musical reflection, “I Dream of a Church.”

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