Sunday, April 24, 2016

All Means All

11:1-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers[b] criticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 

4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 

11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”


Sometimes we hear stories about ministers being called up before some council or other and asked to explain their actions. Maybe they married a gay couple, or gave undocumented persons sanctuary in their church building or gained a reputation as someone who didn’t respect the systems that were in place.  Or maybe something in their personal life came under question.  That used to happen to gay and lesbian ministers a lot.  Sometimes those stories are very public.  Sometimes they are kept quiet.  But they are always worrying.  The decision of the council in question might change the entire direction of the church - and that worries a lot of people.

Peter was in Jerusalem because the council wanted an explanation for his baptism of Cornelius and every person in Cornelius’s household.  Here was an uncircumcised Gentile.  A believer, yes.  He was one of those Gentiles who went to Temple and believed in Yahweh, respected the prophets and followed the law.  But he hadn’t yet been circumcised, so he wasn’t yet fully Jewish.  And yet . . . .Peter baptized him.  Not just him, but everyone in his household - his wife or wives, his children, all the servants and workers in the household, even the children down to the tiniest infant.  Everyone in the household.  None of them circumcised.  None of them fully Jewish.  The council just had one question, really.  “What were you thinking?”   So he told them the story, just as it had happened. How he had a vision from God, and that vision led him to understand that God is not just the God of the Jews, but of the Gentiles also.  And since Gentile was understood to mean “Everyone who isn’t a Jew” that pretty much meant everyone.  All of them.  Wow.  What a concept.  Jesus came for All of us.  Even them.   For God so loved the world that he sent his only son to heal it.    The world.  All of it.  All. Of. It. 

You may have noticed the slide show going on behind me.  You may, in fact, have not heard a single word I said because of the slide show going on behind me.  That was a risk I decided to take this week, because this slide show is quite frankly, amazing.  Time lapse photography taken in Yosemite Park.  I forget who sent it to me - maybe Alan.  But I was blown away by the beauty it shows and decided to save it for Earth Day.  Yes.  For those who missed it, Earth Day was Friday.  According to my Disciples planning calendar, Earth Stewardship Sunday was last week, but you know, sometimes I ignore the calendar and celebrate things on a day that works better.  This year the scripture reading for this week was much more appropriate, I thought, to Earth Day.   “What God has made clean, don’t you make unclean.”  And ok, that might be a bit simplistic, given the fact that we live in an area with even worse air quality than LA.  Who knew that I would have to use my asthma inhaler so much more often here than in Los Angeles?  It’s a farming community, for Pete’s sake.  It’s supposed to have clean air and lots of water.  And yeah, I get that we’re in a drought, which makes having enough water a problem.  But the air?  …  a subject for another time, perhaps.  Because Earth Day is about much more than air quality. It is about all the earth - the earth animals, sea creatures, plants, and minerals.  It is about the way every single thing on the earth somehow interacts with every other thing on the earth so that it all works properly.  When a bug becomes extinct, it will soon be followed by a larger bug, a bird, a certain kind of plant that bird helps to propagate by eating its seeds . . . when bees go away we won’t just stop having honey, we’ll stop having food.  And we will die. 

All means All.  All means everything, everyone.  It means we have to lavish love not just on other humans but on all the creatures of the earth, all the insects, all the minerals that enrich the soil in which we grow our food . . . In this place, in Selma, California, that really should be a no brainer.  But I grew up on a farm, too.  And I know that we really didn’t care about the groundhog’s place in the ecosystem.  We just knew he dug holes that sheep and cows stepped in and broke their legs.  So we shot him.  We didn’t care about the fact that some bird only ate the bug that ate big holes in the corn kernels.  We only cared about the corn.  So we killed the bug with poison.  And maybe the bird died for lack of food.   We didn’t care about the poison that was getting into the food that way either - I don’t think anyone was thinking about those things then . . .

Frankly, it’s really hard to care about All.  All is a huge word.  It’s easy to care about this issue or that group of people.  But it’s really hard to even wrap our minds around the concept of “All.”  I could list environmental concerns until we’ve all missed lunch, and not get close to the end of the things we need to think about.  I could name a long list of different categories of people we need to concern ourselves with, and I would miss some.  All is a really, really big word.

When we say “All Means All” in the church, though we tend to think rather narrowly.  I have to tell you, one of my pet peeves is the narrowness of focus with which we use this phrase.   I know that when the resolution to be a Welcoming Church was passed at General Assembly it caused quite a ruckus, especially in the Hispanic Churches.  A number of Hispanic congregations dis-associated themselves from the denomination, because they believed that they were being told they had to include LGBTQIA folks.  (And for those who asked, I looked it up.  The QIA part means Queer, Intersex and Asexual.  We can have a conversation about gender and orientation fluidity some other time.)  Well, they kind of were, but they also really weren’t.  It’s not like we’re hierarchal - we have no bishops.  We don’t have to do what the General Assembly resolves to do.  Our General Assembly can pass resolutions until the cows come home, but no congregation will be required to implement those resolutions.   So they could have stayed, lodged a protest, as the ObraHispania did, and continued doing as they have always done.  It’s sad that they don’t want to welcome everyone, but they could have.  Lots of congregations chose that path.

The thing is, though, they were wrong on another count.  
All means All is not just about being accepting of LGBTQIA folks.  It means exactly what it says.  It means that every person is welcome here.  

And by welcome we do not mean "you may come, sit over there and whatever you do, don’t change anything!!!”  

By welcome we mean, or we should mean, “come in, sit where ever you like, join us in everything we do, and bring your ideas!  We LOVE new ideas!  We want to find new ways to reach out to our neighbors lovingly.  We want to carry the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone we possibly can.”

Now I’d like to invite everyone in this room who is 30 years old or younger to come forward, please. .  . . . 

At the Regional Gathering the other week they announced that the Region finally called a Regional Youth minister.  Yay!  And that new youth minister stood up in front of us, bragged about how great the youth of the region are - they even led a workshop!  Just like grownups! - and she said “They are the future of the church.”  Our children, youth, and young adults are the future of the church.  Right?

Wrong!  These are the church now.  These are where the energy and ideas and crazy geekiness come from that are leading us into the future - and the future is now.  Paul had a great fund raising idea - which has been a little slow getting off the ground, but is going to be great fun and should bring in some much needed money for ministries of this church.  Jordan keeps designing cards and brochures that help us tell everyone how great this congregation is.  This week a Disciples app was released - which means if I want to know what’s going to happen at General Assembly next summer all I have to do is click on my phone and all the info pops up - and I am fairly certain that the person who designed it is under 30.  Jason and Leah, while perhaps a bit older than these, have been adding bits of Tech that take us out into the internet through our website and Facebook and YouTube.  Christian is getting us on Instagram with his awesome photos.  Alisia regularly volunteers to read.  Jorge does pretty much anything he’s asked to do, as does Jimmy.  These are the church - now.  Not sometime later, when we are ready to relinquish the reins.  But now, sharing the responsibilities and burdens of leadership, including committee work. They are already doing it!   I can’t tell you how happy I was to see a college student on the Search Committee.  It told me you take them seriously.   These are part of ALL . . .  OK, you can all go sit again.

Now, for us older folks. I’m not saying we’re done.  Or that we aren’t tech savvy.  Not by a long shot.  It’s just that we are all part of All, and that everyone who shows up here is not just welcome to sit and watch, but to stand and deliver - to be present and part of everything we do, every decision we make.  There can be no Us and Them in the church . . . only Us.  All.    

Although we tend to think of Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles, because he is the one who went out establishing churches in Gentile lands, it was Peter who first convinced the Council of Elders in Jerusalem that All means All.  Whomever God has made clean - even Gentiles, even Samaritans, even lepers, even whomever we might think is unclean, unwelcome, or unacceptable today.
Homeless people 
Developmentally challenged people 
Wheelchair people
Multi-lingual people
Non-English speaking people
Citizens and undocumented aliens
People with a criminal record
Addicts and Alcoholics
People who understand the Bible differently than we do 
People whose life style is different from ours
Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Green Partiers, Tea partiers, and Coffee Partiers 
And no doubt others I can’t think of right now . . . 

God said to Peter, What God has made clean, you must not call profane.  And the Council in Jerusalem proclaimed, “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”   And remember, Gentiles is everyone who isn’t Us.  The Good News, my brothers and sisters, is that God has opened the gates of life to every person on the earth.  That Jesus came to call every one to be healed of the burden of sin we all have carried.  That repentance and forgiveness are there for anyone who desires.   The Council in Jerusalem agreed to welcome all, everyone, into the church, into their family, into their lives.  Let us do likewise.  

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Acts 9:36-43 Common English Bible (CEB)

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas). Her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need. 37 About that time, though, she became so ill that she died. After they washed her body, they laid her in an upstairs room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two people to Peter. They urged, “Please come right away!” 39 Peter went with them. Upon his arrival, he was taken to the upstairs room. All the widows stood beside him, crying as they showed the tunics and other clothing Dorcas made when she was alive.

40 Peter sent everyone out of the room, then knelt and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and raised her up. Then he called God’s holy people, including the widows, and presented her alive to them. 42 The news spread throughout Joppa, and many put their faith in the Lord.


Dorcas, aka Tabitha, was one of the disciples living in Joppa.  According to the Acts of the Apostles, her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need.  She spent her life caring for the widows of the town, making and giving away clothing.  It can be said with some assurance that she was well off.  She had a house.  She had the means to provide clothing - new clothing - for those who had no one to care for them.  

A word about some words:
Disciples:  At Ask the Pastor this week, one of the questions was “What does disciple mean?”  It means follower, or student.  So the first twelve Jesus called were disciples, as were all the others who followed Jesus during the years of his ministry. After Jesus ascended, those early disciples became known as apostles - people who went around teaching the newer disciples the Good News.  The apostles were still followers of Jesus, but they were now the teachers.  When we say we are Disciples of Christ, we mean we are followers of Christ.  Dorcas was a follower of Jesus.  As such she made it her business to care for those who had less than she did.  The disciples named in the passage, the ones who sent for Peter, were the other Christians living in that place.  

Widows:  Widows, when we talk about them in Scripture, weren’t merely women whose husband had died.  They were women who no longer had anyone to provide for them.  If they had no son, and if the husbands of their daughters didn’t want the responsibility of an extra woman, they were left to fend for themselves - homeless and hungry, with no one to turn to. The Temple was supposed to feed them, but the 10% tithe only goes so far, especially if the collection is being taken up in a poor community.  The same was the case with orphans - children with no fathers.  Aliens - which is sometimes translated as strangers or foreigners - were in the same boat.  They were often refugees from other countries, who had no family in this new place to rely upon.   So when we hear the words “Widows and orphans and aliens” in Scripture, what we are really hearing is “powerless people with no rights and no one to stand up for them.”

Back to the story:  Dorcas may have had a living husband, or she may very well have been one of those fortunate widows whose husband was able to provide for her.  This often happened when husband and wife had been merchants together and she continued running the business after his death.  Or he may have left specific instructions on his death that gave her sufficient to live on.  This was not unheard of.  (A Public Service Announcement - Wills are important. Even if you are young.  Just saying . . .)  Whatever the case, Dorcas was well known for her compassion - her overflowing heart.   The powerless in her community knew that they could come to her for help.  She took Jesus’ commission to feed the hungry and clothe the naked very seriously indeed.  

Dwight Praylow has been a UPS driver in Irmo, Texas for 15 years.  He met Nancy McCummings when he delivered packages for her disabled son who lived with her.   After that son, the last of her children, died in 2013, Mrs. McCummings was left alone.  On his delivery runs in the neighborhood Dwight noticed her home was in poor repair and learned from neighbors that it had become infested with roaches.  He decided he needed to do something. He said that he figured if it takes a village to raise a child, that same village needs to take care of the elderly.    So he gathered up his brothers and his friends, collected donations of money and materials - bleach, paint, a refrigerator, flooring, even some furniture  - and as soon as they could they put Mrs. McCummings in a hotel, cleaned up the house, exterminated the roaches and did some of the most necessary repairs.  The house still needs work - and they have set up a Facebook page for anyone who wants to help - but it’s livable now, and that’s more than could be said for the condition of the home when Dwight first decided to help. 

Most people would have just shook their heads and driven by.  They might have wondered what her family was doing to help, never realizing that she had no one.  Dwight and his friends had hearts overflowing with compassion - and those hearts drove them to help one of the least of God’s children, just as Dorcas did.  

The story of Dorcas being brought back to life is more than simply another “raised from the dead” story.  In most of those are stories the one grieving being rewarded for their faithfulness - like Elijah raising the widow’s son and Jesus raising the daughter of the Temple official.  This one, however, doesn’t reward the widows who grieve the loss of their benefactor as much as it rewards the church in Joppa, enabling it to continue doing the work of caring for the helpless.   This story tells us that death really isn’t the end. 

Congregations often freak out a little when a generous benefactor dies.  They also tend to freak out when a generous benefactor gets angry at something the pastor said or an action the congregation has taken and threatens to leave the congregation or withhold their tithe.  I understand that panic.  The idea that all of a sudden we might not be able to pay the electric bill, or worse, the office administrator (!), can bring panic into the heart of any board.  These days it almost never happens that one of the apostles will come around and raise that benefactor from the dead.  But somehow the church manages to survive the loss when a member passes.  There is often a flurry of whispers saying, “How are we going to replace her?  Who is going to make all those tunics and other clothes?  Does anybody else even know how to sew?” but still, the church manages.  

In the other case, when a member threatens to withhold their tithe or leave the congregation, what too often happens is that the board backs down or the pastor apologizes for whatever she said for fear of losing that person’s money.  In those cases it often seems as if the church sees members more as checkbooks than as disciples.  And that church continues to slowly die of fear.  But sometimes the congregation realizes that the loss of that person, or that checkbook, isn’t the end of the world.  Sometimes the congregation decides that going forward without that person will be ok.  Scary, maybe, but ok.  The Dwight Praylows of that congregation step forward and make up the difference with an extra $1, a can of paint, an hour of their time . . .  And that church, having walked forward in faith and love for one another through the fear and grief of losing something - someone - they have greatly valued over the years - grows.    

Sometimes a few members realize that they could give a little more, or help out a little more.  For example, since coming to First Christian I decided to stop listening to conventional wisdom, which says I need to first pay all my bills and expenses and then give to “charity”.  Since coming here I decided to tithe, really tithe.  A full 10% of my income.  I’ve never done that before.  I’ve always just given what was left.   And this week, having received some financial gifts, I was able to give over and above my usual tithe. I was able to donate a little for the new building, and a little for the sound system - both things that are dear to my heart.   I’m not going to tell you that tithing has made my financial situation better - but I am going to tell you that tithing has made my heart feel better.   I don't know how much my little bit helps, but I do know that every little bit helps.

Sometimes that benefactor, that angry member, realizes that not everyone in the congregation, or the denomination, is always going to agree on everything, but as long as we always agree that we are disciples, followers of Jesus, and that we try to follow Jesus’ teachings the best way we can, individually and in community, it’s going to be ok.  Sometimes that person remembers that we are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world, and that unity doesn’t mean uniformity, but simply coming together for one united purpose - to carry the Good News of God’s love for the world, as manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, to everyone.  

The church is a place where love lives.  It is a place where like minded people come together to worship God in community.  It is a place from which we go forth, fed and strengthened by the overflowing compassion and love that we find at the Lord’s Table, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the comfortless . . .  

As love grows within you so beauty grows, for love is the beauty of the soul.”   
(St. Thomas Aquinas).  The beauty of Dorcas’ soul was so great that all the disciples in that place, all the Christians in the city of Joppa grieved her loss.  Her importance to the church in Joppa was so great that Peter raised her from death so that she might continue giving, from the overflow of compassion and love that lived in her.  When the beauty of a congregation’s soul is as great as Dorcas’, it too, will find new life.  Even if it looks as though death is imminent, It too, will raise back up to do even more good work, to reach even more people, to share the Good News of God’s love even farther afield.   

My brothers and sisters, the Good News is that God’s overflowing, unconditional, steadfast and faithful love beautifies our souls, our hearts, our lives, indeed, the entire world around us.  The Good News this Easter Season is that He is Risen!  And so are we - lifted into new life through the beauty of God’s overflowing love.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Why are we here?

Psalm 150 

1 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty firmament!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

My typical Scripture passages of choice during the month of April revolve around creation care.  I usually do a sermon series on Creation Care in April because - well, Earth Day is in April, so it just seems an appropriate thing to do.  But this year . . . I don’t know.  That just wasn’t speaking to my heart this year.  Instead, I found myself drawn to passages that made me want to ask questions of the sort that we usually take for granted.  Sort of like that old Bill Cosby routine, “Why is there air?”  When he was a Phys Ed major at Temple University, he said, the philosophy majors would wander around campus asking, “Why is there air?”  Well, he said, any fool knows the answer to that.  There’s air so we can blow up basketballs and footballs and volleyballs . . .   But the questions I have in mind are more like, “Why are we here?”   Not “Why are we living on earth at this particular time in history?”, but “Why are we in this particular church building on this particular Sunday?”  Especially this particular Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, when historically people stay home in droves.   So, this morning I want to pose the question why are we here?  I know why I am here.  But why are you here?

One of the pieces of literature that is read at the beginning of some 12 Step meetings is titled, “Why are we here?”  It’s not unusual for some wise aleck in the back of the room to respond with “Because it’s Tuesday” or whatever day it happens to be.   So, are you all here because it’s Sunday?

I certainly hope not.   I mean, yes.  We are here in this place because it is Sunday, but we are here on a Sunday because . . . . anybody?  Kids?  . . . 

Hint - the reason we do this on Sundays is named in the Psalm we read.  There is a reason we call our Sunday morning church activity “Worship.”  We are here to worship God, to praise God, to learn more about God and about God’s relationship with humanity - indeed, to learn about God’s relationship with all of creation.  And just in case you feel a bit embarrassed about why you are here - there aren’t any wrong answers.  Whatever draws you to worship, whatever makes you want to show up here on Sunday mornings, whatever brings you to share this space with all these other people, whatever it might be is a perfectly good reason.  Maybe your kids pestered you to bring them.  Maybe there’s a cute boy.  Maybe you love watching Tony play the organ with his feet.  Maybe it’s the only place you can get any peace and quiet in your week.  Maybe you want to sing someplace other than the shower where no one will criticize you.  Maybe you’re just in the habit of showing up here. Maybe you desperately need to hear something that will help you get through one more week.  It doesn’t matter why you come.  The fact is, you are here to praise and worship and learn and pray.

Not everyone knows why we do this Sunday morning thing.  I certainly didn’t.  For the longest time I thought I had to show up on Sundays to avoid Hell.  Not that just showing up was enough, of course.  But that was my biggest reason.  And then for years and years after I turned 18 and moved out of my family home, I didn’t show up because I didn’t believe the things I had been taught in that church.  Well, actually, I didn’t show up because I did believe those things and I refused to have anything to do with the God that judged and hated and rejected.  Eventually, as you know, I did come to believe in God as we know God - that loving, caring, merciful, compassionate and forgiving God, who so loved the world that Jesus was sent to heal it.  But I still did’t do church.  Mind you, I didn’t dare go to a church other than the one I was raised in, because going to some heretical church would have me burning in Hell again.  There was a lot of fire and brimstone teaching going on in that church . . .  And why I held on to that particular belief for so long after I rejected all the others is anybody’s guess. . .

But then a really good friend of mine was going to be married, in a church, and I had to go.   And for me, having been raised in the church in the 50s and 60s, that meant I had to find a hat, because Heaven knows a woman didn’t dare go into a church without a hat!  So I found a milliner’s shop and went in to find a hat.  When I told the owner why I needed a hat, she said she was making the veil and bridesmaid hats for that wedding, and asked if I wanted to see them.  Then we proceeded to try on every hat that would go with my navy blue and white polka dotted dress . . . and we found the perfect hat.  This hat.  Is this not the perfect church hat?  Of course, it looked a lot better 23 years ago.   And then she asked me where I went to worship.  I told her something like “I prefer finding God in nature”, and she agreed that was a good thing, but that worship in community was also good and necessary.  She said “Church is just a gathering of like minded people gathered to worship God.”  I’d never heard that before.  And I didn’t know it at that moment, but it became clear pretty quickly that that was exactly what I was looking for . . . a group of like minded people, who believed in God the way I believed in God, who gathered to praise God and worship God and lift up concerns and celebrations to God and sing!  I wanted to sing songs of praise to my creator, and songs of sorrow, and songs of longing and pain - not by myself, but with other people who also loved God.  

And that is what I found at Treasure Coast Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).   I found a place where people came to worship - warts and all.  People came to sing and study scripture and teach their children and sing, and share God’s love around the Lord’s Table.  Within a couple of weeks I felt comfortable enough that I came forward during the Hymn of Commitment to place my membership with that congregation.  It was a wonderful feeling, to know that I was accepted as a member of that community just as I was.  

Well, except for the hat.  Apparently, no one wore hats to church anymore.  But you know, this hat, this was my excuse to go to church.  I told myself, “now that I have a hat that is very clearly a church hat, I need to find a church.”  You know the rest of the story of how I ended up on this side of the pulpit . . . and if you don’t, I’m always happy to share it.  

There was so much to learn as a new member of a Disciples congregation.  Pastor Betsy answered many of my questions about the Disciples, and I already knew a good bit of church history because I really like history.  Her sermons helped quite a bit.  But there were so many other questions I wanted to ask that don’t go in sermons.  Why do we do things the way we do?  Why do we use very old terms to name the parts of the church?  For example - why is this called the chancel and not the stage?  Why do we use different colors for different seasons?  What does it mean to be a member of a congregation?  What do we have to do as Christians besides showing up to worship on Sunday?  I kind of didn’t want to ask those questions, because I really didn’t want everyone to know how much I didn’t know. You know?   But I often found myself feeling a bit lost and wishing someone would explain some of those things to me.  

We could do that, you know.  I meet with the youth once a month for something called “Ask the Pastor” where they are encouraged to ask whatever they like.  We could do that with adults. I would like that.  We could meet once a month or once a week for as long as the questions keep coming.  Even if there are just two or three . . . “For where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in their midst.”  (Matthew 18:20)   

We are here today, on this Sunday after Easter, this 2nd Sunday in the season of Easter, to worship our God.  We are here to celebrate Easter again . . . just like we do every Sunday.  Every Lord’s Day we come together to re-enact the Last Supper, to remember the Lord’s death, and to commemorate the empty tomb.  We come to celebrate the risen Christ, every single Sunday.  And in that celebration, we remember why Jesus was here. We remember that God sent Jesus to live among humanity, a human among humans, sharing our pains and joys, our sorrows and celebrations.  Jesus lived as we live, our brother in the flesh, a human among humans, to know in his own body what illness and suffering and death are, to feel and understand both despair and exultation.  And we come together to remember, from his example, that nothing . .  nothing . . . can separate from the love of God.  Not even sin, not even death.  Because in the resurrection we see that sin and death are defeated for all time - Jesus is with us, our living Lord, even now.  God is with us, every moment.  

Every Sunday we come together to remember those things, to learn more about God’s intentions and hopes for the world, to hear Scripture read and explained, to pray with our mouths and with our hearts. Every Sunday we come together to do all of those things . . . and to sing.  Every Sunday we come together to lift up our voices in praise and celebration to the God who created us, and all of the universe, who placed us here to care for all of the earth and all of its creatures, who gave us hands and thumbs and intellect and creative talents so that we could serve God with all of our hearts and minds and strength.  

Why are we here?  My brothers and sisters, we are here to learn, so that we may understand better what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  We are here to be equipped to go out into the world, carrying God’s love and God’s light with us, so that we can be a light in the darkness.   We are here, a gathering of like minded people, to worship our God and to sing God’s praises, lifting our voices in joy and adoration.  When we go out from this place, let us go carrying God’s light into darkness, praising God’s name with great joy and celebration, as members of God’s family, the Church Universal, sisters and brothers to Jesus, the Christ.