Posts Tagged ‘Poor’

Who Is the Church For

Here is my sermon for Sunday September 1st in both text and audio form. The gospel lesson for the week is Luke 14: 1,7-14. Jesus instructs us to invite those that have no way of repaying us.

Hear the sermon here:

Here is the text file. As usual, disregard the strange punctuation and the indications to pause. I’ve gotta remind myself of that somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen
Several different times over the course of the past two months, I’ve had the opportunity to show people around the church…most recently, just last Sunday when Bishop Prois from the Western Iowa Synod was here to preach and preside over my installation as pastor.
Each and every time I’ve shown people around, they have expressed wonder at the beauty of our church, and particularly our sanctuary. Go ahead, take a look around. (pause) The walls are nicely painted, the plush carpet and pew cushions add color. The ceiling is wonderfully stained woodwork. We have very fine examples of wood carving along the walls. The alter is beautiful…truly, we have a sanctuary worth being proud of…worth inviting people in to see.
Our church is a place that we are excited to show off. We love to invite people in…and we love to play host to them…well, most of the time anyway.
A week ago, I bumped into one of those times where I wasn’t quite so excited to be the host…and the invitation, felt a little forced.  A week ago Friday, I got the phone call that I was dreading. The phone call that I knew was going to happen sooner or later.
I was sitting in my office, and when I picked up the phone, I was greeted, very enthusiastically, by an individual that was stranded in Underwood along with his wife…and he was looking for help. As he explained his situation to me over the phone…I experienced a single emotion…panic…
How could I help this guy? What could I do? (pause) On one hand, I felt like I needed to offer some sort of assistance, but on the other hand, we know that we need to be careful in situations such as this, and I was hesitant to involve the church…and in what was likely the first of many epic fails in my ministry…I stalled. I had the guy’s phone number and I told him I would call him back.
I spent the next hour or so trying to contact community service organizations…thinking that if I could just find the right contact person, I could call him back with a phone number…and I could pull myself out of the situation having helped…but without having to do very much.
It didn’t work…try as I might I couldn’t connect with anyone that could offer this guy the help he needed…and I knew that after he ate the lunch that a kindly stranger had been nice enough to buy, that he and his wife would be walking over to the church, hoping that I would be able to help them out in some way.
In the end, that’s exactly what happened. They came to the church…they came in my office…told me their story once again…and when it got right down to it, I couldn’t turn them away. I gave them a ride out to the Underwood Motel next to I-80, and I paid for a room for them for the night.
We ended up in the office of the motel, having a conversation with the manager, and in the midst of that conversation, the man said to me. “Well pastor, I know where your church is now. If we’re ever coming through here on a Sunday, I’ll swing in for worship.” That was the end of the conversation, and he walked out of the office to his room. As I was driving back into town, I found myself praying for the man. Praying that the ride that was supposed to be coming his way the next morning would make it…and in my second epic pastor fail, praying that he wouldn’t still be around, come Sunday morning.
I found myself wondering what the response would be from all of us if he and his wife walked into the church for worship in their unwashed clothes and slightly uncivilized manor…and I found myself wondering what the Bishop would think, and if it would mess up his first impression of our church.
Admittedly, not my finest moment, and as your pastor I ask for your forgiveness for harboring a very non-pastoral attitude, even if I didn’t express that attitude in the face of man.
But regardless of how that situation played out, it does raise the question…just who are we willing to invite into our church? That seems to be the question that Jesus is discussing in today’s Gospel lesson…and it’s a question that I’ve been pondering on a lot in the last week…Just who is church really for?
One of the activities that has been going on recently has been cottage meetings. I’ve met with quite a few of you already, and one of the things that we’ve talked about has been how you as individuals came to Underwood Lutheran in the first place.  Many of you were born and raised here…but many of you also came into the church as an outsider and almost unanimously I’ve heard these individuals comment that they were enthusiastically welcomed into the church…welcomed into worship…and welcomed into the congregation…As a newcomer myself, I can also offer that reaction.
But what if I was a different person? What if I wasn’t Pastor Scott…and I didn’t have a suit on? What if I was homeless…and hadn’t had a bath in awhile…what if I was scruffy…and my clothes were rumbled and dirty from constant wear without being cleaned? Would I still be welcomed? Would I still be fawned over?  Would I have been invited, last Sunday following worship, to walk downstairs and share in the fabulous meal put on by several of our church ladies? Would church…be for me then?
In today’s story, Jesus is sitting at a banquet…he’s a guest…but the way he takes over the scene, leading the conversation…you’d think he was the host of the gathering…but then, that’s how Jesus tends to operate. Especially in Luke’s gospel, we often see Jesus, gathering around a table to eat and drink and be merry with the people that he’s interacting with…and it irritates some people.
Jesus is called a glutton and a drunkard…apparently when he hits the tailgate party…he likes to eat a lot and have a few cold ones…hmmm, I’ve got those same tendencies myself…anyone else?
But apparently that’s not Jesus’ only problem when it comes to hosting a party. His guest list also seems to be suspect. He eats with sinners…he welcomes the unwelcomed…and here in today’s story, he tells us to do the exact same thing.
“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you.” Perhaps at first glance, this seems easy to absorb. Of course, Jesus is telling us to care for the poor. That’s a no brainer…until we think about it…or until we’re faced with it…and in situations just like I faced last week…how often to do we follow through with the invitation…how often do we really care for these people that Jesus himself cares so passionately about?
Well perhaps we fool ourselves into thinking that it doesn’t really apply to us. Maybe we are helpful when faced with a situation of someone in need…but we don’t go looking for it when we aren’t faced with it. Does that count? Is our attitude good enough. Well, it would seem here, that Jesus is telling us no…its not good enough.
Because Jesus instructs us to go out and invite the undesirables…the ones that have nothing to offer back to us. (pause)
And so I pose this question to you. Who are the undesirables? Who is the church for? (pause)
Perhaps its easy to sit and think…us…its for all of us…well no…sorry…the church is not here for you…because when we think about it for a moment, we remember that we ARE the church. WE ARE the body of Christ on Earth…and as such, we have something to offer. And that thing that we have to offer is the invitation to the other that Jesus is talking about.
Each and every one of us as a member of the body of Christ is called to go out into the world and invite those that have nothing to offer, just as we were once invited…because you know what…at one time or another, you were the outsider…you were the other who had nothing to offer the host of the banquet…and I’m not talking about some fancy dinner party here…but rather I’m talking about the host of the heavenly banquet. God himself.
We have been invited, by God himself, into eternity…into life ever lasting…into the heavenly party that is beyond all of our understanding…but we have no way of paying the entry fee…none of us do…but God invited us anyway. Broken as we are, dirty as we may be…sinful as we are, with nothing to offer our host beyond our gratitude were still invited by Jesus Christ into that banquet. Each and every one of you, when you were named and claimed by God in baptism was invited….You were the poor….you were the crippled…you were the lame…and you were the blind…but you were still invited.
And that, my friends, is what we are called to do. Not only to, quite literally, invite everyone to come and see…to come and hear this good news of Jesus Christ…but also to be the hands and feet of our Lord here on Earth. We are the body of Christ….WE…ARE…THE CHURCH. It’s not here for us…It IS…US.
But as I raise that point I also feel the question coming on, “So what do we do with that?” Do we need to go out and find the homeless and bring them to Underwood Lutheran? Do we need to empty the church bank accounts to feed the hungry or stock the local food banks? Is that what we’re supposed to do?
Well, to be perfectly honest…I don’t know? I don’t know what God is calling each of you to do…but I do know this…God’s going to bring the uninvited into your path…so how are you going to respond to that situation?
Are you going to brush it off…or are you going to take a long look at that person…and see them as God sees them…a beloved child of God…and someone who, just like you, has no way to repay our Heavenly Host for the banquet that has invited us all…into?  Amen